Dead pilot widely mourned
The American tourists who survived a Central Otago plane crash have spoken about the flight in which Glenorchy Air pilot Ray Crow died.
The scenic airline's senior pilot was killed on Tuesday when the Piper Cherokee 6 crashed in Lord of the Rings country near the Old Dunstan Rd, Poolburn, about 20km east of Alexandra.
American tourists Eric and Sarah Hoffman, of Texas, who were seriously injured, are in a stable condition in Dunedin Hospital. In a statement today, the couple thanked everyone for expressing concern.
''We are focusing on our recovery, we have sympathy for Ray and his family and have no further comment to make at this time. Thank you."
Robert and Janet Rutherford's family-run Glenorchy Air temporarily suspended operations, saying Crow was a good friend and colleague.
The Rutherfords said it was a hugely difficult time as they came to terms with events, and Robert Rutherford said the pilot was a good friend and colleague who was sorely missed.
"He was a very experienced and careful pilot who had worked for us for about six years and was well experienced at flying in the mountains. He had flown this particular route many, many times."
He extended deepest condolences to Crow's family and friends and said the airline's priority was supporting those involved and their families and helping investigators.
Glenorchy Air said the 56-year-old pilot was in regular contact with the airline's office, which tracks the flight paths of all its aircraft. The light plane was on its expected flight path and crashed short of its next destination and landing at Poolburn airstrip.
Yesterday former pilots, friends and the aviation fraternity could not speak highly enough of Glenorchy Air's approach to safety and were at a loss to explain why Crow died.
Queenstown-based aviator Jules Tapper said Crow worked in Queenstown while learning to fly, then worked as an instructor before joining the scenic flight operator.
"He was a pretty experienced pilot. He was no mug," Tapper said.
Crow was trained at the Wakatipu Aero Club and obtained his commercial licence in 2008. He worked as an instructor at the club before joining Glenorchy Air in 2009.
The club referred all queries to president Adrian Snow, but he was unavailable yesterday.
Former Glenorchy Air pilot Richard Osmaston, of Nelson, worked for the Rutherfords from 2003-2004 during the first wave of Lord of the Rings tourism.
Central Otago flying conditions differed markedly from the alpine environment around Queenstown, but the Rutherfords' industry contacts meant their meteorology forecasts were "more sophisticated than Nasa".
"I came from a professional aviation career, 25 years with British Airways, American Airlines and I worked for some ropey outfits. I have seen the best and the worst of the industry. Robert and Janet were fantastic.
"As regards to professionalism and integrity I was astounded, Robert and Janet wouldn't cut any corners at all in one of the harshest economic climates I've worked in. Queenstown is so cut-throat. The pressure on them as an operator to go flying when the conditions are not right is enormous, but they were absolutely steadfast.
"They've put their lives into that company. Flying in such challenging conditions for them to have a record like that is phenomenal."
The Southland Times