3 months ago

Selwyn Times: August 15, 2018

8 Wednesday

8 Wednesday August 15 2018 Latest Christchurch news at News Local News Now SELWYN TIMES Fire rages, homes at risk Young witness recalls air crash A memorial plaque dedicated to those who died in the 1953 air force crash, in Wigram will be unveiled later this year. Reporter Matt Salmons talks to former Prebbleton resident Peter Smith who remembers the tragedy PETER SMITH remembers the day of October 15, 1953, well. It was the day he witnessed the country’s deadliest domestic air force crash at the age of 14. Living in Prebbleton and with an uncle in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, Mr Smith said seeing aircraft overhead was a common thing at the time. While out on his bicycle with a friend, an odd engine noise alerted him that something was amiss that day. When he looked up Mr Smith said he saw one of the Devons go down. Mr Smith said the boys grabbed their bikes and in spite of no smoke to follow they “rode like mad down a shingle road” towards the crash site, coming to within 150m of the wreckage. BEFORE THE 1953 London to Christchuch Air Race, commercial air travel to New Zealand from Europe wasn’t frequent. Organised by the Canterbury International Air Race Council, the 1953 event would be the longest of its kind, tasking flight crews with the 19,756km distance in two categories; speed or transport handicap. It would both put the country on the map and showcase the future of international commercial travel. Crews from the United Kingdom, Holland, Australia and a single RNZAF crew left London on October 8. MEMORY: Plane crash witness Peter Smith at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand with a Royal New Zealand Air Force Devon. Mr Smith said ambulance officers already on scene told the two boys to stay back. “I didn’t see a body, which I’m very glad of as that would have haunted me,” Mr Smith said. He estimated that including FLYOVER: The Devons passing over the ceremony. Two would collide and crash in Wigram while awaiting clearance to land. In just under 24 hours, the crew of a Royal Australian Air Force Canberra bomber touched down to cheering crowds in Christchurch to win the speed section. In the transport section, in spite of coming in behind a British European Airways flight (carrying the first copy of Sir emergency services there would have only been around 20 people in the field, most of whom were asked to leave when police arrived. “Police ordered people off the site, naturally, there were bits of aircraft around. We asked if we Edmund Hillary’s film Conquest of Everest to reach New Zealand) the Dutch KLM Airlines DC-6A Liftmaster carrying 50 Dutch immigrants won the day. New Zealand’s only entry had to pull out after encountering issues over Sri Lanka, the crew only saved by the actions could help, but we were happy to go.” After being turned away, Mr Smith said they found a wheel from one of the Devons in the grass 30-40m away, strapped it to his bike and took it home. Why the Devons were airborne of squadron leader Larry Siegert. In celebration of the race, a 27 plane flyover of the prize-giving was organised by the RNZAF for October 15. Two of those, NZ1810 and NZ1811, would encounter tragedy on their return to base. “When my father found out, he was pretty cranky about it and took it back to Wigram the next day. “We should never have taken it.” Efforts by retired engineer and Halswell Residents’ Association member Ron Fensom to have a memorial plaque placed near the crash site brought the event back to the forefront of Mr Smith’s mind. “It brings back a lot of memories. It’s never stopped flashing through my mind. I’ll always remember the crash. “At the time, I wasn’t sure how I felt . . . but as the years have passed I often think of those brave young pilots who lost their lives while on duty for their country and how it must have affected their friends and family, then and now.” Mr Fensom said he was receiving feedback from people interested in the unveiling and the crash. The unveiling is set for the afternoon of October 15, to coincide with the date and time of the crash. Mr Fensom said he hoped to soon get in contact with the families of the pilots who had died, so they would be able to attend. The Wigram crash remains New Zealand’s worst domestic air force crash with seven men killed. The two RNZAF de Havilland Devon aircraft were part of a flyover of Christchurch Airport marking the 1953 London to Christchurch Air Race prize-giving ceremony. While the two Devons awaited clearance to land at Wigram Airfield, one clipped the wing of the other. Both lost control and crashed into paddocks killing all crew members. They were: Squadron Leader Sholto R Duncan Pilots – Flight Lieutenants Edwin Ebbett and Erling Ziesler Crewmen – Brian J Keogh, Eric Melrose, William Sharman and Russell Woodcock. New sections in Wilfield, West Melton A wide range of new sections are now available at Wilfield. Pop in to our sales and information office, Kingsdowne Drive, this Wednesday or Sunday from 1pm to 3pm to find out more. Contact us on 03 741 1340 or mail

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