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.
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.
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.