December 22 2014, updated 8:23pm

Pilot gave life '100 per cent'

Air force 'flummoxed' after experienced pilot crashes

BY MICHAEL FORBES AND DAVE BURGESS
Last updated 15:37 15/01/2010

Air Force pilot killed during practice

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The younger brother of deceased Air Force pilot Squadron Leader Nick Cree has spoken of a man who gave life "100 per cent" and was good at everything he did.

The 32-year-old, a flight commander at the central training school in Ohakea, died yesterday when his CT4 Trainer crashed near the Raumai weapons range, west of Bulls, on a training flight.

At a press conference this afternoon in Feilding, where the Wellington-born pilot lived with his wife Sarah - a police officer - and four-month-old son Jackson, his brother Elliot Cree paid an emotional tribute.

Supported by his wife Ingrid, father Denis and sister Stacey, a tearful Elliot Cree said the highlight of his brother's life was his time with the Red Checkers aerobatic team.

"He was the best brother or friend anyone could ask for. He gave life 100 per cent and was good at everything he did."

Mr Cree said the other members of the Red Checkers were taking the accident very hard, but had been supportive of the family.

"The phone's been going nuts, we've been getting calls from everywhere - even overseas."

He described his older brother as an "excellent sportsman" and a family man.

"He sailed, skied, played soccer and more recently he conquered the NZ Ironman for the second time.

"He was so proud of his new son Jackson, and loved his wife Sarah so much. He was such a family man, always there for us. He was the best brother, son and friend anyone could ask for.

"Nick would have no regrets, as he had done almost everything in his 32 years. He farmed, was building his dream home, had a gorgeous son and married the girl of his dreams."

A service funeral would be held at the Air Force base at Ohakea on Tuesday.

'BLOODY GOOD GUY'

The accident happened at 8am yesterday when the air force's Red Checkers team was practising manoeuvres independently. The cause of the crash remains unexplained.

Warrant Officer Ty Cochran, from Feilding, was a colleague and friend of Mr Cree's.

"He was a bloody good guy. I have known him since he joined the air force and served with him in East Timor and with the Red Checkers. He was the consummate professional."

Air force chief Air Vice Marshal Graham Lintott described Mr Cree as a talented and respected pilot with 14 years' experience.

Since joining as a trainee pilot in 1996, Mr Cree served in the Solomon Islands, twice in East Timor and with the Singaporean Air Force.

"He loved flying and he was one of our most talented and experienced flying instructors."

Mr Lintott said the air force was "as flummoxed as everyone else as to what might have happened".

The manoeuvre Mr Cree was executing when he died was one of the "safer" moves performed by the Red Checkers.

"I can't recall and we haven't found any evidence of any incident, certainly no fatality in the past [of the Red Checkers] so this is the first time," he said.

"The team is made up of the most experienced and talented flying instructors we have based here at Ohakea. We're very satisfied with the quality of the Red Checkers team, both in spectacularness and in safety."

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Piston engine training craft, such as the 7.1-metre CT4 Mr Cree was flying, generally do not have protection or ejector seats, Mr Lintott said. "He [Mr Cree] would have had a parachute."

Mr Cree had instructed students on helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, but did most of his flying in helicopters.

Mr Lintott and other officers who attended a press conference yesterday were visibly shaken.

The crash will be investigated and the crash site remains under guard.

Peter Whitehead, of Bulls, said he saw smoke coming from behind the tree line of the neighbouring section where he was excavating.

"We headed over there and saw the canopy and propeller lying beside wreckage.

"If you didn't see the propeller, you wouldn't have known it was a plane. It's not the kind of thing you want to see first thing in the morning."

Fellow workmate Mark Lambert said the Red Checkers often performed daring moves above Ohakea. "You see them doing loop-de-loops and flying in formation. It's pretty impressive to watch."

Yesterday's crash was the second death to hit the air force in less than two months.

On November 19, Flight Sergeant Andrew Forster, 46, was killed by an artillery shell, which exploded at Waiouru Military Camp in November.

THE RED CHECKERS

* It's the RNZAF's only aerobatic team.

* It's part of the Central Flying School.

* It's a wholly volunteer display team.

* Practice for each summer season is carried out in spare time.

* Began after WWII. Officially named Red Checkers in 1967.

* Name came from a red and white design on the planes. Disbanded in 1973 due to an international fuel crisis. Reformed in 1980.

* Current CT-4E Airtrainers introduced in 1999.

Source: RNZAF website

- The Dominion Post

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