Pilot had Miss Nelson in his sights

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:11 04/02/2014
Takaka Aero Club

FLYING BUDDIES: Max Heath, third from the right in the back row, with some of the Takaka Aero Club members at Puramahoi in 1946.

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Golden Bay pilot Max Heath, who was killed in a plane crash in 1946, was engaged to be married to Miss Nelson of the day.

The story of Mr Heath, whose body was never found when his Tiger Moth plunged into the sea off Separation Point, featured in the Nelson Mail on Saturday.

His nephew, Gary Bowden of Takaka, has contacted the Mail and has shed more light on the man who survived World War II as a fighter pilot, came home to Takaka and not long after, was killed in the crash.

Mr Bowden also corrected information that wrongly identified Mr Heath in the photograph provided to the Mail. He said his uncle, pictured among his flying colleagues was in fact, "the handsome young man third from the right in the back row".

"I do remember meeting him a few times, and what a handsome devil-may-care personality he was," Mr Bowden said.

He was 5 at the time of the disappearance of his uncle Max - his mother Merle's brother, and recalled the great alarm at that time.

Mr Bowden said they recalled how he "buzzed" his sister and brother-in-law's farm at Rototai Rd as they worked in the field, scaring them flat to the ground.

Mr Heath was killed in the crash on November 16, 1946. He was the sole occupant of the Nelson Aero Club's Tiger Moth, trawled up about a decade later by Nelson fishermen Lionel Wells, now 93, and Noel Jones, now 82.

They said recent publicity around the search in Awaroa for the missing aircraft Aotearoa had prompted memories of their discovery. They had not at the time placed much significance on their find.

The 25-year-old warrant officer from Rototai Rd became New Zealand's first postwar casualty of a civilian air crash. He had also qualified as a flight engineer and was working in Hodginkson's garage in Takaka at the time he was killed. Mr Bowden said his uncle had qualified to work as an engineer on Lancaster bombers, but the war finished before he had time to put his training into effect.

"Luckless, indeed, to survive the war but not the peace."

"He was engaged to the winner of the Miss Nelson contest at the time, who lived close to our family in Allan St, Nelson," Mr Bowden said.

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- The Nelson Mail

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