Feilding air crash victims mourned

MANGLED WRECK: Witnesses to the crash believe the pilot, Ralph Saxe, inset, was trying to steer the ailing aircraft towards Feilding's Timona Park and away from nearby houses.
MANGLED WRECK: Witnesses to the crash believe the pilot, Ralph Saxe, inset, was trying to steer the ailing aircraft towards Feilding's Timona Park and away from nearby houses.

Brett Ireland, who died when an aerobatic plane he was in crashed in Feilding yesterday, had "touched the lives of many".

Queensland-based Dr Ireland, 50, and Palmerston North doctor Ralph Saxe, 51, died when a Russian-built Yakovlev-52 aeroplane crashed into a sports field, near a children's playground, in Timona Park about 10.45am yesterday.

Ireland moved his wife Janine and three children from Palmerston North to the Gold Coast in 2002, after 18 years of working in New Zealand as a chiropractor.

Dr Ireland was a charismatic person who touched the lives of many, family and colleagues said in a statement issued by police.

"He was genuine and caring towards his family, friends and patients. He was quick-witted and his dry sense of humour was well known by all. These attributes made him loved by everyone who knew him."

Dr Brett Ireland was one of the founding members of the New Zealand College of Chiropractic and ran successful chiropractic clinics in Palmerston North and Fielding, which he sold in 2002 before he and his family moved to Australia's Gold Coast. practice.

Brett and his wife Janine had returned to Palmerston North for a friend's daughter's wedding, the statement said.

"He was a visionary and a leader in chiropractic care. The chiropractic community in New Zealand and Australia are reeling from this tragic loss.

"His family and friends have been shattered by this unforseen tragedy."

Saxe lived in Palmerston North with his family.

According to Saxe's website the doctor - with an expertise in facial sculpting - flew his own Beechcraft Bonanza plane to clinics in Nelson and Rotorua.

He had appeared on national television, earning the "Flying Doctor" nickname.

Palmerston North air traffic controllers had named him "Dr Botox".


Police said the Yak airplane had taken off from Taonui Aerodrome, just outside Feilding, about 25 minutes earlier.

Witnesses heard the plane going down and rushed to the scene of the mangled wreck, which had dug into the ground from the impact.

The crash was unsurvivable, one onlooker said.

The site was cordoned off yesterday and tents were erected to preserve the wreckage for a CAA investigation now underway.

The CAA investigators had been on scene this morning, making a general assessment of the wider wreckage area, lead safety investigator Al Moselen said.

The main portion of the fuselage remained under police control, and was not expected to be released to CAA until tomorrow.

Moselen and investigator Steve Walker expected to be at the crash scene until for the next three days. They would be speaking to witnesses in coordination with police.

The scene examination was expected to take several days.

Inspector Mark Harrison noted that Timona Park was popular with the community.

"There were a large number of people in the park at the time and it is extremely fortunate that no-one on the ground was hurt," he said.

Witnesses described hearing the Yak cruising in the air above southern Feilding, with no obvious problems, before a loud bang and a "revving sound" as it fell out of the sky, avoiding rooftops by as little as 100 metres.

Tingey Ave resident Bob Cale, whose house backs on to Timona Park, saw the plane hurtle towards the ground at a 45-degree angle and hit with tremendous force.

"It was going so bloody fast, they wouldn't have had a chance to [crash] land the thing ... there was no walking away from that."

Sandra Elliot said she saw the plane, trailing smoke, career towards the park. It appeared to be listing to the right, suggesting the pilot was steering it towards the open, she said.

"I'm very thankful that he was able to steer it away from all these homes ... this could have been a much bigger tragedy."

Her son, Jordan, headed to the scene and saw the propeller had been flung into the nearby playground, she said.

Manawatu Aero Club member Clyde Rowland described Saxe, 51, as a "fine pilot" who specialised in aerobatic flying and had performed for the public at air shows up and down the country.

"He was one of the nicest blokes I had ever met in aviation.

"The flying world is a brotherhood ... some people fly and they never join in anything else.

"But he [Saxe] was one of those guys who was part of everything and excluded no-one from the circle."

Saxe, a New Zealand citizen who hailed from Pretoria, South Africa, came from an aviation-oriented family, who shared his passion for the skies, Rowland said.

"Ralph's great passion was for older, unusual aircraft ... he had quite a collection. He was a man who had a never-ending enthusiasm for aviation – that's him in a nutshell."

Saxe owned at least four planes – a Yak, two DHC-1 Chipmunks and a Beechcraft Bonanza.

MidCentral District Health Board member Jack Drummond described his friend of 15 years as an outstanding go-getter and entrepreneur who did great things for Palmerston North medicine.

"He was very good forward-thinking, an extremely competent practitioner. He's been into everything that's progressive in medicine," Drummond said.

"But he was also a very much-liked person and I'm very, very sad to hear [about his death]."

Family gathered at Saxe's Palmerston North home yesterday declined to comment.


Yakovlev 52 aircraft are described as "a pleasure to fly".

The plane was designed as an aerobatic trainer aircraft in the Soviet Union after World War II.

Since the fall of the iron curtain many Yak-52 aircraft have been exported, and they can be bought new from Romania.

A Yak-52 airman said the aircraft was extremely reliable, well-built and without any vices. The Russians designed them specifically for aerobatic exercises. "They're a pleasure to fly."

Meanwhile, a civilian aerobatic team based in New Plymouth plans to go ahead with a display involving the aircraft at Tauranga Air Show next weekend.

"We'll be taking a [Yak-52] team over to Tauranga next weekend and that's really about all I want to say on the subject," pilot Brett Emeny said. "They are fantastic aircraft to handle."

About 10 North Island Yak-52 pilots regularly put on displays at New Zealand air shows.

The Dominion Post