Air display goes wrong

MATTHEW GRAY
Last updated 05:00 19/02/2013

Pilot Office Charles Smith's life came to an abrupt and dramatic end on June 18, 1943, when the aircraft he was aboard crashed during an aerobatic display in Whangarei.

At the controls of the Tiger Moth was Flying Officer Murray Gray of No 20 Squadron.

Both dead men were 25.

Smith and Gray were taking part in a publicity flight designed to generate interest in the Liberty Loans scheme - a drive to raise funds for military efforts overseas during World War III.

Onlookers watched as Gray brought the plane out of a controlled roll and were horrified to see it collide with power lines and crash into a brick building on the corner of Vine St.

One of them, Mr S J Snow, put his own safety aside - running among the fallen live cables to reach the wreckage and its trapped occupants.

But there was nothing he could to for the RNZAF airmen. Both had died on impact.

An inquest showed no sign of technical defect in the plane which had been inspected on the morning of the tragedy and deemed good to go.

There was nothing to suggest Gray was to blame and, with 700 hours of flying time to his credit, he was considered an experienced and capable airman.

It was thought the plane's engine had cut out as it emerged from its last manoeuvre, losing height and forcing its pilot to try and land on the road below.

The power lines thwarted any chance of a safe landing and amazingly no-one below was killed.

Smith, whose wife Dorothy lived in Balmoral, was laid to rest in a soldiers' section of Waikumete Cemetery and was also survived by his Remuera-based parents and siblings.

Gray, who lived at Kohimarama, was buried at Purewa.

Their deaths came just three weeks after a similar incident involving a Tiger Moth at Eyreton in Canterbury when the plane collided with trees during a low flying exercise on May 31, 1943.

Pilot Officers Raymond Wilson and Charles Richardson were killed instantly.

- Western Leader

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