Were it not for helicopter pilot Jason Dellow, investigators trying to discover why a CT4 air trainer crashed near Ohakea may have little to work with.
Mr Dellow was spraying gorse in the area on Thursday when Squadron Leader Nick Cree crashed near the Raumai weapons range, west of Bulls, while practising manoeuvres with the Red Checkers.
Mr Dellow was close enough to receive the mayday call from a team-mate of Mr Cree, which said a plane had crashed and immediate fire assistance was needed.
"We're not supposed to interrupt their frequency but I thought, `Jeez, if the thing is on fire then I can help'."
Mr Dellow said he dropped 400 litres of water on the fire from tanks already attached to his helicopter, three minutes after the crash.
"The plane was on fire big-time. I was lucky my first dump of water was right on target and it put 99 per cent of the fire out. If it had burned for another 15 to 20 minutes, there wouldn't have been much of a wreckage to play with."
Mr Dellow doused the wreckage twice more but his assistance did not stop there.
He also guided emergency services to the crash when they overshot the site.
Mr Dellow said he had also seen Mr Cree make an emergency landing in a Tiger Moth in a field near Ohakea about two months ago, when his engine stalled while performing an aerial manoeuvre.
"He [Mr Cree] was pretty jovial about it. He was laughing and saying the air force probably wouldn't let him fly the plane again."
The family of Mr Cree also spoke about their loss at an emotionally-charged press conference in Feilding yesterday.
Younger brother Elliot Cree, with support from his wife Ingrid, father Denis and sister Stacey, spoke of Mr Cree's passion for life and love for his family.
"Nick would have had 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," he said.
Mr Cree's love for his family was summed up by the last time they saw him alive.
He had left for work without kissing his four-month-old son Jackson goodbye, then remembered and ran back up his driveway to do so, Elliot Cree said.
Wing Commander Tim Walshe, of the Ohakea operational support wing, said two investigations into the crash had been started.
The first was to examine the wreckage piece by piece and the second was a more formal Court of Inquiry, examining any air force protocol that could have contributed to the accident.
Mr Walshe said both were slow, delicate processes, which could take more than a month to complete.
- The Dominion Post