A well-known Omarama farmer and former Waitaki District
Council councillor crashed his plane when illegally landing
in the Hawea Conservation Park, resulting in an appearance in
the Oamaru District Court yesterday.
Michael Bernard Thomas (71), retired, of Killermont Station,
was convicted and discharged after he admitted landing his
Cessna 180A in the Dingle Burn Valley on February 11 without
a concession or permit, an offence under the Conservation
Judge Joanna Maze said while the landing was an intentional
breach, with Thomas knowing a permit was required, the
offence was towards the lower end of the scale. She
recognised Thomas had given generously and served the
community for decades.
He took pride in his reputation and found his first-ever
appearance in court an embarrassment, she said.
Department of Conservation counsel Pene Williams said landing
an aircraft in a conservation park required a concession or
permit. Non-commercial pilots such as Thomas could obtain a
permit for $23 for up to four landings a year, outside
About 3pm on February 11, a fishing party in the Dingle Burn
Valley, which included a helicopter pilot, saw Thomas land
his Cessna on the Yards Gully airstrip, heard a "tearing of
metal" and saw the plane crash.
When a witness arrived at the airstrip, people on the plane
had managed to get out and were not injured.
Thomas identified himself as the pilot and said he had hit a
rock and "should have known better".
The pilot with the fishing party flew the plane's passengers
out of the area in his helicopter.
Thomas told the department he had English friends on the
plane and flew into the area so they could take photographs.
The department felt it had no option in the circumstances but
to prosecute, Ms Williams said.
Counsel David Jackson said Thomas had lived in the Omarama
area since he arrived as a 7-year-old, farmed Killermont
Station for 50 years before retiring and was involved in a
large number of community organisations and events.
Thomas was closely associated with the area, involved heavily
in resource management and conservation issues, including
supporting and assisting the Department of Conservation in
the past and future.
"He lives and breathes this part of the country," he said.
Thomas' previous unblemished record was a matter of personal
pride, the effect of the prosecution yesterday "carries some
sting" and was "an embarrassment", Mr Jackson said.