Mystery surrounds fatal plane crash at Matamata airport
John Shuttleworth loved flying.
It was such a passion that he had a picture of the other love of his life, wife Nadia, emblazoned on the side of his scale-model warbird plane like a fighter pilot of yesteryear.
Mystery surrounds the cause of the crash that left the Morrinsville man dead at the controls of his three-quarter scale P-51 model in the grass of the Matamata Aerodrome runway on Tuesday and the aviation community mourning his loss.
Shuttleworth's friend Mike Crene, who builds similar aircraft at his aerodrome-based business, Kiwi Mustangs, arrived at the chaotic scene just after 11.30am.
The airport manager informed him the aircraft had crashed on takeoff, killing Shuttleworth.
Rescuers performed CPR on Shuttleworth but it was unsuccessful.
"I have lost a really good mate," Crene said.
Crene had known Shuttleworth, who regularly flew his homebuilt Mustang out of Matamata, for the last 10 years.
"He was always a very positive, enthusiastic guy – enthusiastic about aeroplanes and has been flying for years."
Mustangs were Shuttleworth's passion, Crene said, so much so he painted his aircraft in the same colours as the original No 3 Territorial Air Force Squadron he had seen flying overhead in his student days at Lincoln University in the 1950s.
In another nod to the famous WWII-era American fighter aircraft he loved, Shuttleworth named his plane Miss Dixon after his future wife, complete with a 1950s stencil of her.
Crene said Shuttleworth, an experienced pilot, had built the T-51D aircraft, produced by US-based Titan Aircraft, himself with help from an engineer.
"He loved his aeroplanes, loved flying and loved tinkering with aviation."
Before retiring, Shuttleworth had been a commercial pilot, helped teach trainees at flying school and flown gliders, since he was young.
He maintained his ties with the gliding world and was a member of the Piako Gliding Club.
Crene believed Shuttleworth was just up for a flight on the clear sunny day over the town bordering the Kaimai Ranges.
It was too early to say what exactly had unfolded in the aircraft, he said.
"I don't understand it. There's a whole bunch of things that could have gone on."
A medical event was a possibility, said Crene.
New Zealand Aviation chief executive and Morrinsville man Mitchell Coombe said Shuttleworth's death had shaken the community, which had lost a valued member.
"He built the aircraft in his hangar. He was an aeroplane man through and through.
"He's the sort of person you would stop and waste an hour talking absolute crap with and love it."
Many who used the airfield at Matamata were retired and very close, so the incident had hit really hard, Coombe said.