Pilot and celebrated sailor Murray John Philpott killed in Central Otago glider crash

Murray John Philpott, 55, who is a celebrated Kiwi sailor, died in a glider crash near Twizel on Sunday.
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Murray John Philpott, 55, who is a celebrated Kiwi sailor, died in a glider crash near Twizel on Sunday.

The son of a pilot killed in a gliding crash was hoping his father landed in a remote area with no phone coverage when he was reported missing.

Hope turned to despair for Daniel Philpott and his family hours after they arrived in Omarama, Central Otago, on Sunday afternoon.

Murray John Philpott, 55 – a celebrated Kiwi sailor and Olympian – took off from Omarama on Saturday. Airfield officials reported him missing at 8.20pm after he failed to return.

Murray Philpott won multiple A division catamaran championships and represented New Zealand on the world stage.
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Murray Philpott won multiple A division catamaran championships and represented New Zealand on the world stage.

An aerial search found his glider crashed in mountainous terrain in the Ben Ohau Range, northwest of Twizel, about 7pm on Sunday. It was about 50km from the airfield. He did not survive the crash.

READ MORE: 'Reasonably experienced' pilot killed in glider crash near Twizel

Philpott had won multiple national A division catamaran titles and represented New Zealand on the world stage, including the 1992 Barcelona Olympics where he was a travelling reserve. 

The Christchurch man had two daughters, Georgia, 18, and Gabrielle, 20, and a son, Daniel, 22. He had been married to his wife Christine for at least 25 years and was the owner of Christchurch business Argus Heating, specialising in electrical heating elements.

Daniel Philpott said he initially thought his father, a member of the Canterbury Gliding Club, may have landed in an area with no cell phone coverage and would be found on Sunday.

"We were thinking about how silly he would be feeling at the time, all the beers he would have to buy everyone for going and picking him up."

The family travelled to Omarama about noon Sunday. When they arrived, they were told searchers found something. More than three hours later the family received the worst possible news.

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"I was expecting good news right up until they told us otherwise. Dad's very resilient."

He was carrying a personal locator beacon, which was manually operated but not activated.

"All we have been told is that he crashed on a slope and that CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) will do a report and it'll be thorough. We will just have to be patient."

Daniel Philpott said his father started gliding as a youth in the Air Training Corps, but only got back into the sport a few years ago.

He had purchased his own glider that took 18 months to arrive from Germany last year.

In recent times, he had obtained a qualification allowing him to fly alone and was honing his skills to one day compete in gliding competitions.

"We haven't been able to hold him back, he's pretty much spent every weekend, or all the time he can, getting certified and getting his licence sorted," Daniel Philpott said.

The family are planning a funeral where up to 400 people are expected.

"He was best to go to for advice, you always trusted him and he was the smartest man I knew. Quite often we would get phone calls from people asking how to get into sailing and how dad could help. He was always happy to do that," Daniel Philpott said.

New Zealand A Division Catamaran Association (NZADCA) president Brent Harsant said Philpott was one of the organisation's longest serving members.

"He was an integral part of the New Zealand fleet, and his passion and enthusiasm for the class helped it get to where it is today.

"Whether it was on the water or land, Murray was a fun person to be around with and had the biggest smile. He was always the first person on the beach to assist others out of the water."

 - Stuff

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