Shock of tragedy lingers at aero club

There's an air of quiet at Hawke's Bay Aero Club - the flag flying at half mast in memory of a passionate pilot, lost in Sunday's tragic plane crash.

Although flights resumed at the aerodrome yesterday, members of the close-knit aviation community remained in "complete shock" at the loss of dear friend and former club captain Chris Rawlings, who set out on a routine flight with experienced British pilot Christopher Howell and didn't return.

Hawke's Bay and East Coast Aero Club president Bruce Govenlock managed a smile as he recalled Mr Rawlings - "a bubbly, up for anything, 10 mile-a-minute man".

"He's been here a long time, over 20 years, he's one of your ebullient, really keen guys - he loved flying."

Wanting to instil that passion in others, Mr Rawlings gained his instructor's licence in April 2012.

"He was club captain for three years - they are the guys that get everyone else enthused about flying, he was well liked."

Mr Rawlings leaves behind three sons, all living in Canada, and a partner based in Clive, who was being comforted by family, close friends and club members.

The aerodrome shut down on Sunday, with no planes flying out of or landing at Bridge Pa, after the 11am crash.

Mr Govenlock understood the weather had been fine for flying that day but said it was too early to speculate on whether mechanical or engine failure were factors.

"It was just the normal summer weekend, that's why we are so speechless, it was a routine flight in a designated low-flying area," he said.

There was nothing untoward about a final radio call sent out to other planes in the area and the club's command centre, advising their intentions just minutes before the Tomahawk PA38 let off an emergency locator signal "on impact".

"It was the normal Saturday and Sunday routine exercise with an instructor and an experienced pilot - but the unexpected happened."

Many people visited the Bridge Pa base on Sunday to talk and offer support as the tragic news spread.

No one at the club knew of Mr Howell before he walked in the door on Saturday to arrange training flights to prepare for his pilot's licence validation exam, which would have gone ahead yesterday.

"He was virtually unknown to us, he's a UK pilot, he's got a wife and kids overseas, had been offered work here."

Before being allowed to fly commercially in New Zealand, Mr Howell first had to validate his British pilot's licence.

"It was organised independently with Aviation Services Limited," Mr Govenlock said.

"It was suggested that he try to get the testing done and the fastest that he could do it was in Hawke's Bay - he walked in here on Saturday."

- Amy Shanks of Hawke's Bay Today

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