Australian tycoon Dick Smith has lent his name to a Kiwi aviation campaign encouraging farmers to eliminate wires.
"I'm asking any farmer with a wire that's more than five metres above the ground to get it down as fast he can," Smith told the Taranaki Daily News from Sydney.
The Australian aviation community is astounded by Smith's support for the Down to the Wire campaign, says New Zealand Agricultural Aviation Association (NZAAA) chairman and Taranaki helicopter legend Alan Beck.
Smith agreed to front the campaign after he was approached by Beck, whom he has known for almost 40 years.
"He's a world icon - the most travelled adventure helicopter pilot in the world," Beck said.
"Having his name attached to our campaign gives it credibility. He knows pilots around the world have the same problems."
Smith is famous for successfully completing the first solo helicopter flight around the world in 1983, and for establishing the electronics business that bears his name.
The NZAAA launched Down to the Wire last year to get farmers to remove wires from their farms because they pose a hazard to low- flying pilots.
Beck, who broke his back when his helicopter struck wires in 1992 - his only accident in more than 20,000 hours of low-level flying - said the campaign's objective was the protection of all low-flying pilots, not just those involved in agriculture. There have been about 25 wire strike fatalities in New Zealand, including one in Taranaki, in the last 40 years.
Smith said wire strike was a pilot's worst nightmare. He had narrowly avoided wires twice - once in Japan and once near Australia's Snowy Mountains, when his two children were on board.
"Those two occasions were the only times I've been close to killing myself. I came very close to a wire that I hadn't seen. I have nightmares about it."
He said the New Zealand campaign was close to his heart because wire strike claimed a close friend, Australian pilot Tony Maslin, who died with his family after he flew a helicopter into a wire on his way to a barbecue.
Smith said the campaign was about saving lives.
"Wires aren't necessary. I'm asking farmers to get them down. No farmer would want to be responsible for killing someone."
Recently, he flew his helicopter to the farm of a friend in Australia - who, unknown to Smith, had just erected a wire near his usual landing spot. Asked why he put up the wire, the farmer said he thought pilots would be able to see it.
"Farmers should understand wires are difficult to see," Smith said. "They're relatively easy to see if you're below them, but if you're looking down on them, it's almost impossible."
Named Australian of the Year in 1986, the 70-year-old has flown a helicopter to the North Pole, landed a Twin Otter airplane at both poles, flown over the summit of Mt Everest, and amassed 10,000 flying hours since gaining his licence in 1972.
Smith said he would like to see the campaign spread beyond New Zealand. Beck said he believed it had the potential to be adopted worldwide.
Beck said farmers who removed wires from their farms would receive numbered NZAAA certificates of appreciation bearing Smith's signature.
The first two will be presented to Taranaki farmers Brian Schumacher and Ian Jury, who are removing a wire spanning a gully after Beck's son David Beck narrowly avoided flying into it earlier this year.
- Taranaki Daily News