20 years since tragic crash
In a nightmare mid-air collision above one of Auckland's busiest junctions Kelvin Hill lost a third of his closest colleagues.
The former member of the Police Air Support Unit will attend a memorial this afternoon to mark 20 years since the fatal crash between the police helicopter and traffic spotting plane.
''Thinking back to those days, it was a fantastic job to have, then to have something like that happen...'' he said.
''When you work in such a small unit, when you work that close, it's a big shock when a third of your buddies are not there anymore.''
Four men died in the accident above Spaghetti Junction during Friday's peak-hour traffic.
Wreckage was scattered across the central city. The helicopter rotor landed in Symonds St Cemetery while a wing was found on a church near Queen St.
Passengers Sergeant Lindsay ''Lou'' Grant, constable Alastair Sampson, civilian helicopter pilot Ross Harvey died in the helicopter.
The traffic plane's pilot, Allan Connors, died.
Miraculously, no one died on the ground, possibly because the road had been cleared due to an earlier car accident.
''It was a miracle gap in the traffic. For whatever reason the Eagle and plane came down when that [traffic] incident happened so there was nothing on the road.''
Hill had been rostered on to work the evening shift on the Eagle Helicopter when a news bulletin reported the helicopter crash.
He immediately knew it would either be the police or rescue helicopter.
As he was driving to the Air Support Unit's headquarters he saw the Westpac rescue helicopter hover above.
He knew his police friends were gone.
Brian ''Pilkey'' Pilkington, who was second-in-charge at the Unit at the time, will mark his friends' deaths like he does every year.
''I stand outside with a Jack Daniels and salute them at the time of the incident. I've never forgotten it.''
Pilkington worked the morning Eagle shift on the day of the accident.
The last time he saw his friends alive they joked about how many criminals they'd nabbed that morning.
He was having an after-work beer with colleague Mark Gray when his life changed forever.
People were crowded around the television at the pub, he said.
''Mark came back from the bar and put the beers down and said 'we've got to go, something has happened to the guys'.''
Despite the shock and grief, the surviving officers refused to let the accident stop the Police Air Support Unit from being a success.
Within a few days they were back in the air.
''We were going to show the criminal fraternity we were not down and out. We were still a force to be reckoned with,'' Pilkington said.
The fallen colleagues would be proud of what the Air Unit went on to achieve, which included a major law enforcement award at Helicopters' Association International Awards in 2009, he said.
An investigation into the crash found neither pilot saw in each.
The memorial service is being held at Eagle Memorial Garden at Mechanics Bay today at 4pm.