The Mercury Bay community suffered a major loss when Whitianga resident Jim Evans died in an aeroplane accident in the mountains above Coromandel Town on Friday.
Jim took off from Whitianga Airport on Friday morning in his Van's RV12 aeroplane, bound for Ardmore Airport south of Auckland. Bad weather forced him to turn around and he headed back to Whitianga. His plane was reported missing late on Friday afternoon.
A land search and rescue team reached the wreckage of Jim's plane on Saturday afternoon.
Jim was passionate about aviation. He was a highly experienced aircraft engineer and an enthusiastic private pilot. He co-owned for many years Wing and Rotor Aviation, an aircraft trading company at Ardmore Airport.
Jim and his wife Sheila moved to Whitianga in 2002, where they became the first residents of the Whitianga Waterways. "My father and Sheila chose to retire in Whitianga because of the outstanding facilities of the Whitianga Airport and also because they knew some people who were living in the Mercury Bay area at that time," says Mike Evans, Jim's son. "It didn't take them long to get to know more people and to become involved in the community. They were genuinely happy in Whitianga."
Jim was heavily involved in the Mercury Bay Aero Club. He served on the club committee in a variety of roles over the years. He also maintained his registration as an aircraft engineer and was always willing to help local aircraft owners with their maintenance requirements.
"Jim's knowledge and experience were phenomenal," says Bill Beard, president of the Mercury Bay Aero Club. "He would look at something and not only know that it wasn't right, but also how to fix it. He will be sorely missed."
Jim initiated the aeroplane build programme at Mercury Bay Area School. The programme has seen senior MBAS students and a team of community mentors building three Van's RV12 aeroplanes to date, with a fourth nearing completion. Several former MBAS students who participated in the programme are now following careers in aviation.
"Jim Evans was an incredible man," says MBAS principal, John Wright. "I met him seven years or so ago when he asked with his cheeky smile how I would feel about the school building an aeroplane. I asked him to tell me more. He said he thought it was possible and he would see me in three months. Three months later Jim reappeared and said, 'Okay, we're ready to start.' And so began a remarkable journey for our students, our school and the mentors in the aeroplane build - all led by a gentle, humble man, Jim Evans.
"Above all Jim was generous, generous in spirit and energy, making things happen financially when it looked impossible, generous of his time, indeed generous with his life. He loved what he was doing, the opportunities he made available to our young people and our whole community.
"We will certainly miss Jim, things just won't be the same."
Mike says Jim was incredibly proud of the aeroplane build programme. "My father had this deep desire for all the students who participated in the programme to become aircraft engineers, pilots and aviation enthusiasts," he says. "He also benefited from the programme. He was never the most patient man around, but the students taught him patience."
Kyla McLean was a Year 10 student at MBAS when the aeroplane build programme kicked off in 2012. She compiled a book, "The Plane Project," about the first aeroplane, registered, ZK-MBA. The aeroplane flew for the first time in November 2013. Kyla dedicated the book to Jim, writing, "As the plane took off from the runway on its maiden flight, anyone who looked at Jim's face would have seen the biggest smile and a tear rolling down his cheek. Thank you, Jim. You are a true good sort."
Kyla says that she was lucky to have known Jim for the past seven years. "The skills and knowledge that Jim has passed on to individuals, both young and old, has shown what a generous man he was," she says. "He showed the 'young kids' that small planes weren't for the 'older folk' like him. Heb taught me that with enough passion, belief and drive, you can achieve what other believe is unthinkable."
Jordan Williams was part of the MBAS student team that built the second aeroplane. He flew solo (in ZK-MBA) while the aeroplane was being built and decided to become a commercial pilot. He's this year finishing a degree in aviation at Massey University. He says Jim was an exceptional man. "I wouldn't have been where I am today if it wasn't for Jim," he says. "Thank you, Jim, for all you have done for me, I'm so sorry I wasn't able to see you one last time.
"You were an incredible mentor, aviator and most importantly friend, and I will never take for granted all of the opportunities, experiences, knowledge and advice you've given me over the years. Rest easy and wishing you clear skies and tailwinds."
Jim was in 2016 honoured with a Kiwibank Local Hero Award. In the same year he fittingly featured in TVNZ's "Good Sorts" news segment.
Jim is survived by Sheila, two children, two stepchildren and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was 78 years old.