Kaimai Air Disaster Commemoration at Waharoa

Everyone (of a certain age) to whom I have spoken today can tell you their memories of hearing about the loss of the DC3 and 23  lives in New Zealand’s biggest domestic aviation crash, when DC3 ZK-AYZ on Flight 441 from Auckland to Tauranga, was caught in a downdraft and crashed into the Kaimai Ranges, 50 years ago today. It was a poignant time in our home, as Dad was a senior NAC pilot who worked closely with Captain Len Enchmarch and his Co-pilot Pete Kissel. Len and I shared a birthday.

Air New Zealand, the airline which took over NAC (the domestic airline of the time), hosted a service at the site of a memorial stone on the Old Te Aroha Road. Rev Dr Richard Waugh QSM, who is also the author of numerous books on aircraft and aviation, led the service. The Roll of Honour was read by Wing Commander Gordon Ragg AFC JP, who was senior to Iggy in the Royal New Zealand Air Force. The service ended with a flypast by the DC3 operated by Fly DC3 – owned by a syndicate and flown and staffed by enthusiasts who describe themselves as “unpaid workers” rather than as volunteers.

Iggy and I reached Waharoa Airfield at a time when I would more usually be trying to awaken from hibernation. The Piako Gliding Club was hosting television crews, the crew of the Fly DC3 aircraft, and passengers who were taken up on 20 minute flights in the DC3 to fly over the crash site. The sausage rolls, scones and hot tea and coffee seemed to be pretty popular among the passengers as they waited in the Gliding Club Rooms, temporarily redesignated as the Fly DC3 departure lounge.

Devonshire tea seemed to be appropriate fare for those boarding the fine old lady for a fly.

Devonshire tea seemed to be appropriate fare for those boarding the fine old lady for a fly.

The reputation of the tea must have spread fast, as my brother Rob flew down from Ardmore in his Yak to have his breakfast brew.

The pilot having refuelled with Waharoa tea, the Yak headed back for Ardmore.

The pilot having refuelled with Waharoa tea, the Yak headed back for Ardmore.

Cabin crew member Jessica Cooper looked fab in her retro-styled uniform.

Cabin crew member Jessica Cooper looked fab in her retro-styled uniform.

The DC3 swung round niftily among the hangars for a quick refuel after flying from Auckland, doing the official flypast and taking three loads of passengers for a flight over the Matamata area and the Kaimai crash site.

The DC3 swung round niftily among the hangars for a quick refuel after flying from Ardmore, doing the official flypast and taking three loads of passengers for a flight over the Matamata area and the Kaimai crash site.

Passengers had many and varied reasons for wanting to take a flight on the DC3. For some, it was a trip in memory of people close to them who died shortly after 9am on 3 July 1963. Others wanted to take a flight in an aircraft in which they had never flown before. Last time I went in a DC3 I lost my rather expensive lunch, so I gave it a miss today. While not being crazy about flying, I do have special memories of my first flight, which was in a DC 3,when I was five. I went with Dad from Auckland to Hamilton. Mum dressed me up for the flight, with my hair in two shiny blonde plaits. I wore my best blue coat with a black velvet collar. Surely, everyone who has ever flown can recall the magic of watching life-sized buildings turn into a perfect model village, with little Matchbox cars running along miniature roads. Those who stepped off the Fly DC3 flights today looked as though they, too, had captured some of that old-time flying magic.

Iggy was the happiest passenger of them all.

Iggy was the happiest passenger of them all.

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6 thoughts on “Kaimai Air Disaster Commemoration at Waharoa

  1. Sarah says:

    Iggy in his element!

  2. Iggy says:

    It is interesting to ponder how much aviation safety has advanced in those 50 years since the accident. We look forward to seeing the TV programme “Descent to Disaster …. Kaimai Crash” which is scheduled for TV1 on 23 July 2013.

  3. kath says:

    Thank you for your blog. I stumbled across it while looking for any information regarding the Kaimai Air disaster. My father was Captain Len Enchmarch. It was very moving to be at the service on Wednesday and especially powerful to witness the flypast of the DC3 fly, in particular when the plane turned around and flew back over the site ,down the valley and over our heads. My family were all at the 40th commemoration in 2003 and it was then we got the opportunity to fly in the DC3…amazing. I was ten weeks old when my father died,my sisters 18 months and 3…I have grown up with this intangible feeling of loss,something I never been able to grasp but also I have grown up with wonderful stories about my father.I met so many incredible people at the commemoration who had their own stories to share, and I was humbled by it. I hope that it gave people some inner peace, understanding or closure to this terrible event that changed our life paths.Kia kaha.Arohanui

  4. I so much appreciate your comment and send my sympathy for your loss and that of your sisters and mother. The day of commemoration brought back so many memories, for so many people. For you, your own family, and all the families and friends of those who were on Flight 441, I extend my sympathy. Grief is not an easy travelling companion.

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