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The tight-knit community at Pukaki airport near Twizel are still coming to terms with losing "one of their family" on Saturday afternoon in a light aircraft accident.
Trevor Shadbolt (60) died after his home-built wooden Taylor monoplane crashed on flat land about 8km from the airport and 12km southeast of the Pukaki spillway, sometime after 4pm.
Fellow pilot and neighbour Chris Rudge, who owns Aviation Adventures, said Mr Shadbolt was a very careful pilot, who did things by the book and added an extra safety margin to everything he did.
"I saw him take off [on Saturday] and it was an absolute immaculate perfect take-off, taking his time to warm up the engine and line the aircraft up correctly, correct use of power — he was that sort of experienced pilot," Mr Rudge said.
Mr Shadbolt and his wife Liz are one of six families who live at Pukaki airport in a hangar house, or a house within a hangar.
"He was living the dream. He put stuff on Facebook regularly to say ‘hey, look at the good time I am having’. He loved the place, he loved every day here," Mr Rudge said.
From the sound of the engines, it appeared Mr Shadbolt had been practising slowing the aircraft in flight and recovering, Mr Rudge said.
"He was extending his skills. That was part of the inquisitive nature of Trevor, out there bettering himself and doing it in a very, very safe manner.
"You would not get a more professional pilot."
Mr Rudge said conditions were perfect for flying on Saturday and the accident site was on very flat country, with no features such as big rocks, trees or fences.
He said if he had to do a forced landing in an aircraft "that is the sort of place I would have put that aircraft down."
Police have referred Mr Shadbolt’s death to the coroner and the Civil Aviation Authority will investigate the crash.
Mr Rudge described Mr Shadbolt as a wise businessman, positive and funny and it had come as a big shock to the Pukaki airfield family for Trevor "to do what he loved most and not come back from the flight".
He said no date had been set for Mr Shadbolt’s funeral service but he expected it could be several weeks, as one of his five children was overseas and would have to go through the Covid-19 quarantine period.