2degrees boss and wife's bodies trapped

FAIRFAX REPORTERS
Last updated 16:50 31/03/2013
MARK TAYLOR/Fairfax NZ

The New Zealand Police dive squad is using sonar equipment to locate the missing bodies of 2degrees CEO Eric Hertz and his wife Kathy whose plane crashed into the sea yesterday.

2degrees will continue

Helicopter footage shows wreckage

Eric Hertz
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax NZ
LOST: Eric Hertz was believed to be onboard a twin-engined plane which crashed into the sea off Kawhia, near Raglan on Saturday.
Kathy Hertz
LOST: Kathy Hertz was believed to be onboard a twin-engined plane which crashed into the sea off Kawhia, near Raglan on Saturday.

SlideshowPlane crash, Kawhia Harbour


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Police believe the bodies of Eric Hertz and his wife are trapped inside their plane's wreckage, 60 metres below the water off Kawhia Harbour, and are predicting a long recovery process.

Eric Bennett Hertz, 58, and Katherine Picone Hertz, 64, were in their twin-engine Beechcraft Baron when it plunged into the sea off Kawhia Harbour yesterday.

Hertz, who was an American with New Zealand residency, was chief executive of the mobile phone company 2degrees. His wife, also a resident, was involved with Maori and Pacific education at Auckland University of Technology (AUT).

Waikato Police Inspector Marcus Lynam said the harbour area had been searched "extensively", but no bodies had been found.

Lynam said the police this morning sent out a dive squad with sonar equipment to assess the scene, but the depth of the wreck meant the recovery of the bodies would be difficult.

"We've got sonar equipment which can identify where the plane is and with the plane at 60m under water it is very complex (as) we need to determine what the structural integrity of the plane is in order for us to see if we can get the bodies back as safely as possible," he said.

"With the plane 60m down its very difficult to get any divers down at that level.

"It's a very complex operation ... We believe NZ Navy have dived to a depth that deep, however it's very difficult to get down."

Police would do everything possible to get the bodies back to their family, Lynam said.

HERTZ'S VISION WILL CONTINUE

At a press conference in Auckland this afternoon 2degrees vowed to carry on Hertz's vision.

Company director of corporate affairs Mat Bolland said board members were flying to New Zealand and their priority would be to put in place a business continuity plan.

He stressed that 2degrees would continue.

"Absolutely, Eric would have wanted that. (I) cannot talk about what it involves and who it involves, but businesses need to prepare for these horrible events and we have," Bolland said.

"We have got a lot of loss to deal with but the excitement and journey of 2degrees has been something that a lot of people share, as well as Eric."

He said the senior management team had met with Hertz on Thursday afternoon.

"We had the management team in the office and we were talking about the weekend. Eric had a more exciting weekend planned that the rest of us."

FAMILY NOT HOPEFUL

Hertz's sister, Johanna Hertz of Pennsylvania, said the situation was not looking hopeful.

"It doesn't seem to be, based on all the conversations we've had with the people in charge of what has happened, the Civil Aviation (Authority) and police, it doesn't look good, we should say," she told Radio New Zealand.

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In a statement this morning police Sergeant Warren Shaw said the focus was on rescue yesterday, but was today on recovery.

Police had worked through Interpol overnight to contact the couple's family, he said. Local police had located their daughter, Ari.

The pilot of the the Baron, which had left Ardmore Airport in Auckland bound for Timaru, yesterday radioed Airways New Zealand to report engine failure and seconds later vanished off the radar screen.

It ditched in the sea around 12.20pm, 20 kilometres northwest of the entrance to Kawhia Harbour, near Gannet Island.

Debris was seen and the wreck of the plane was visible some metres beneath the surface, surrounded by an oil slick. The water is up to 60 metres deep.

The crash is an eerie echo of a 2005 tragedy in which liquor magnate Michael Erceg and companion Guus Klatte were killed when their helicopter crashed into a forested area between Kawhia and Raglan.

CAA SET TO INVESTIGATE CAUSE

Two Civil Aviation Authority investigators are preparing to probe the cause of the crash.

''The CAA cannot commence work until the crash scene is released by police, who are taking all steps they can to locate the occupants,'' spokesman Mike Richards said.

"Once the site is handed over to us, the task of examining the wreckage will be quite difficult due to the depth of water - at around 60 metres - as decompression sickness can be experienced at depths beyond around 30 metres, so the CAA will need specialist equipment and divers.''

That work could require help from the navy.

''Effectively we are arranging the logistics behind the scenes so our investigators can be ready for action as soon as possible next week,'' Richards said.

''We will then want to bring the wreckage and as many components as possible to the surface to a secure location for closer examination, testing or analysis."

A Transport Accident Investigation Commission spokesman said it would contact its counterparts in the USA, as the plane was registered there.

'THEY WOULD'VE BEEN FOUND'

Last night Search and Rescue Mission Controller John Dickson said the Auckland Westpac rescue helicopter, a Coastguard fixed-wing aircraft, and a Raglan Coastguard vessel had intensively searched the area.

"We are confident that if the people onboard had been on the surface, they would have been found," Dickson said.

"The operation had now moved from a search and rescue to a police recovery of bodies."

A keen aviator, Hertz had flown extensively in his homeland and in New Zealand. Just last year he won a gold medal for a World War II-era Beech 17 plane he also owns, at a vintage airshow in Wisconsin.

Intensive care paramedic Russell Clark, on board the Westpac helicopter, said conditions were perfect when they reached the area of the search.

"All we could see were aircraft doors and bits and pieces," he said.

"It is definitely not in one piece and it is in a fairly deep piece of water. Lots of debris around."

NEW SHOP INSPECTION?

Hertz and his wife may have been en-route to Timaru to inspect 2degree's new shop when their plane crashed.

It is not known exactly why they were flying from Auckland to the South Island town, however Timaru's Ray White Real Estate principal Phil Smith confirmed 2degrees had recently signed a lease to go into 212 Stafford St.

He said he had not dealt with Hertz, but had spoken to a property manager for 2degrees.

''They have possession and they have the keys,'' Smith said.

''I thought they might have been coming (to Timaru) to look at the shop.''

He said the possession was ''a couple of weeks" ago.

STAFF 'GREATLY RESPECTED' HERTZ

In a statement released earlier today, 2degrees' Bolland said the firm was providing "all support possible" to their daughter Ari and keeping their families in the US informed of recovery progress.

"Eric and Kathy had lived in many places, but called New Zealand home," Bolland said.

"They recently gained residency and, through flying, got to see more of New Zealand than many of us will ever see.

"Kathy was also passionate about her new home, working closely with AUT and providing us with sound counsel on community initiatives."

Bolland said 2degrees staff were shocked at the loss of "someone who would always greet you with a smile, while constantly encouraging you to do things differently and delight customers".

"We are going to miss Eric's leadership, friendship and dry sense of humour. He was our 'honorary Kiwi' and greatly respected by our 760 staff."

HERTZ A GROWING LEADER

Hertz joined 2degrees as chief executive in 2009 and showed strong acumen to position the struggling mobile phone operator as the little guy giving Telecom and Vodafone a run for their money.

He was instrumental in bringing in comedian Rhys Darby to front the company's marketing campaign.

This morning, Darby tweeted: "I'm very sad to hear about the loss of Eric Hertz & Kathy. My heart goes out to their family. @2degreesmobile #ripboss".

Growing in stature as a business leader, Hertz had begun broadening 2degrees' disruptive impact, threatening to take it from mobile phones into the fixed-line market.

He had also started speaking out on larger business issues - championing a move this year for New Zealand to introduce a four-year parliamentary term.

"Moving to a four-year term makes a lot of sense, particularly in regards to providing continuity for the country. From a business perspective, we need investment certainty," he said.

"A four-year term would mean the Government would have more time between election campaigns, which typically take a lot of time and can be extremely distracting."

On Wednesday Computerworld magazine published an extensive interview with Hertz in which he expressed pleasure at living in New Zealand.

"This is home. It's a wonderful place to live. I've worked and lived in seven different countries and the quality of life here is unequalled. I don't know why people leave," he said.

2degrees had one million customers or 12 per cent of the market.

"We aspire to be 25 per cent market revenue share. And I think that's achievable for us over the long term, the next three to five years."

Before starting at 2degrees, Hertz, bilingual in Spanish and English, held top jobs at a range of US telcos - Zumobi, BellSouth, AT&T Wireless, Western Wireless and McCaw Cellular.

'AS NEW ZEALAND AS THEY COULD BE'

Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Paul Brislen has blogged on the loss, writing a warm and colourful account of Eric Hertz.

"Americans tend not to have a sense of humour, I've found. They take it all too seriously and don't enjoy life as much as you'd expect," Brislen wrote.

"Eric Hertz was not that kind of American.

"Instead, he drove a Chevy Camaro in bumblebee yellow that looked like it came from the Transformer movie.

"He laughed when I offered to lease him space on my iPhone charger during a Commerce Commission conference on termination rates."

Brislen said the couple were living life to the full as New Zealand locals.

"It's not overblown to say that Eric has lead 2degrees to make dramatic changes to the New Zealand telecommunications space," Brislen wrote.

"Without 2degrees we would be facing a duopoly in mobile telecommunications and wouldn't have rollover minutes, shared data or any of the other innovations 2degrees has brought to market.

"The company has changed the landscape of competition for the New Zealand telecommunications market in an incredibly positive way and we as an industry are all the more poorer for today's news."

The couple had made it their mission to travel and see as much of New Zealand as they could.

"They were as New Zealand as they could be."

Communications and information technology minister Amy Adams also paid tribute to Hertz today.

"Eric was one of the true gentleman of the sector and it was a pleasure to work with him. He often spoke of how much he loved living in New Zealand.

"Only recently I ran into him at the Waimakariri Gorge while he was competing in this year's Coast to Coast."

Hertz made a substantial difference to the country's telecommunications scene, she said.

US ambassador to New Zealand David Huebner expressed condolences to friends and family of the Hertzes.

"We have been in contact with their family and are providing consular support. Our thoughts and prayers are with them during this tragic and difficult time."

FACEBOOK TRIBUTES

Hundreds of tributes have been posted on 2degrees' Facebook page:

Jaco Roets said: "What a loss to 2degreesmobile! Many of us who are working at 2degrees can confirm that Eric was a great guy and friend and very approachable CEO."

"Deepest condolences to Eric and Kathy's family, and to the team at 2degrees. Eric was an inspirational leader with a heart of gold," Lisa Woodward wrote.

Yi Roger Yang posted: "I am tearful now. A whole night in my dreams, they were rescued. But still no good news this morning... I am still praying for you, Eric and Kathy."

"My thoughts and Prayers go out to the the Hertz family and the 2 degrees team for the loss of your CEO and family member," said Matt Shipp.

TRANS-TASMAN CABLE WORRIED HERTZ

2degree's dominant owner with 58.66 per cent shareholding is Trilogy International, a partnership between John Stanton, Terry Gillespie, and Brad Horwitz.

Although the company was formed in 2005, the founders have over three decades of international telco experience, and have owned numerous mobile networks.

Another 10.1 per cent, is owned Hautaki Ltd, the commercial arm of Te Huarahi Tiki Trust, which received a portion of 3G spectrum at a discounted rate and formed the nucleus of New Zealand Communications, the forerunner to 2degrees.

In the Computerworld interview Hertz pointed to "big shifts" in the telecommunications industry in the past year, most notably the sale of TelstraClear to Vodafone, and the announcement of new trans-Tasman cable to be built by Vodafone, Telecom and TelstraClear.

The latter worried him.

"I'm concerned about the trans-Tasman cable because I don't know if it will truly bring capacity for the whole industry or just capacity for dominant players, we don't understand that," he said.

- Sunday Star Times

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