Onaero man in jet boat tragedy

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 05:00 06/01/2014

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Dale Baker was on the cusp of a new life when he was killed in a jet boating crash.

The 51-year-old drilling rig supervisor, known as Snowy because of his blond hair, had his north Taranaki rural property on the market and was looking at sheep and beef farms in Manawatu.

"I think he had just had enough of the oil industry," said Waitara man Steven Lye, who had been friends with Mr Baker for 35 years.

"He had been in it since he was 20 years old and he had got as high as he could go. He just wanted to do something where he could settle down and not run off all the time."

The father of two from Onaero was killed instantly when his jet boat Bang-On spun out of control and crashed into a willow tree on the bank of the Ngaruroro River, 10km west of Hastings, on Saturday.

Four other Taranaki people were injured in the crash. They included Mr Baker's partner Julie Williams, and Urenui-based Leanne Lilly, who was flown to Hawke's Bay Hospital where she is now in a stable condition in the intensive care ward.

The group was in the third of three boats from the Taranaki branch of the Jet Boating New Zealand club that had been together on the river.

The front two turned back when Mr Baker's boat, in the position known as the "Tail End Charlie" went missing. They returned to discover the boat wedged under a tree.

Married to Mr Baker for 25 years, his former wife Sandra Baker said friends and family were in a state of "total shock" at his death.

"Dale was one of the safest, most cautious, most thoughtful person to other people there could ever be. He was always, always careful. Careful to the max. Never in a million years did we think something like this could happen to Dale," she said.

Describing him as one of her best friends, she said the pair had two children aged 25 and 16.

Jet Boating New Zealand Taranaki branch secretary Pam Frederickson said four boats from the club had travelled to Hawke's Bay for the weekend. She said Mr Baker had been a member of the club for two years and was well liked.

"He was just a lovely man. He was very enthusiastic and very keen on boating events."

It was the first fatality at the club, which had about 70 members.

Contracted to sell Mr Baker's property before he died, Darrel Nicholas said he had known Mr Baker since their time at Waitara High School more than 30 years ago. He had seen him as recently as Friday when they had a cup of tea together.

"He told me about the trip he was taking. He was pretty excited about it. He had done it a number of times before," he said.

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Mr Nicholas said Mr Baker would be remembered as a hard worker who always put his kids first and would help anyone without question.

Mr Baker's neighbour, Peter Blakelock, was stunned by his friend's death when he found out yesterday. "I'd heard about a man dying but hadn't though anything of it because it was over in the Hawke's Bay," he said.

"He was a great guy, really likeable."

The incident is to be investigated by Maritime Safety and police, and the death has been reported to the coroner.

Maritime New Zealand spokesperson Jessie Davis said crashes, injuries and deaths were rare given the number of people who participated in jet boating.

- Taranaki Daily News

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