Killed Christchurch Port Hills fire pilot David Steven Askin thrived on crisis and pressure - SAS mate video

Steve Askin was a former SAS soldier and was involved in the same action for which Willie Apiata received the Victoria Cross.
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Steve Askin was a former SAS soldier and was involved in the same action for which Willie Apiata received the Victoria Cross.

The helicopter pilot who was killed fighting the Port Hills fires thrived on pressure and was at his best in a crisis, a Special Air Service (SAS) mate says.

David Steven Askin, 38, known as Steve, died on Tuesday when his helicopter crashed near the Sugar Loaf communications tower while he was flying sorties dropping water on the fires around Christchurch. A Givealittle fund for his family had raised about $130,000 by Friday afternoon.

His funeral will be held in Wigram on Monday.

Steve Askin and his wife Elizabeth. They have two young children Isabelle and Bowie.
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Steve Askin and his wife Elizabeth. They have two young children Isabelle and Bowie.

Askin left the NZ army about five years ago to fly helicopters full-time. On Friday his SAS mate Liam, who asked for only his Christian name to be used, said Askin could not sit still and they had numerous, high-risk adventures together.

"He used up a lot of his lives early on and a lot of mine too. He had a lot of close calls," Liam said.

READ MORE:
Steve Askin: from elite soldier to citizen
Life and death in the hills
Pilot dead in helicopter crash during Port Hills fires
Helicopter pilot who died fighting Christchurch fires ex-SAS member David Steven Askin

STUFF.CO.NZ

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pays tribute to helicopter pilot Steven Askin.

"He was very street smart. He was very clever.

"He could apply himself when he really needed to. He had that ability to operate when things got stressful and high pressure. For him things slowed down. When everyone else was struggling he was one of those people who could step up.

"He could make decisions really fast. I think that was why he was decorated. In a gunfight he just could think on his feet. He thrived on it."

Steve Askin was wounded in Afghanistan and decorated for bravery.
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Steve Askin was wounded in Afghanistan and decorated for bravery.

SLEEPING ON THE SIDE OF MT COOK

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In one incident they found an old parachute in the SAS barracks and decided to go on an unsupervised training exercise.

"We were up to no good. We dropped into the surf off the coast and I got tangled in the parachute. Steve pulled me out before I drowned.

GEORGE HEARD/STUFF.CO.NZ

Helicopter pilot David Steven Askin died after crashing in Christchurch's Port Hills while battling a blaze.

"There were lots of those sorts of incidents. Dozens of them. For instance we were training for mountain warfare. We thought we would climb Mount Cook. We climbed that thing all night long with no ropes and we slept on the side of the mountain."

Because the weather deteriorated they were stuck in a hut for three days and after eating all the hut food, they decided to walk out over the glacier.

"All the crevasses were covered by light snow. We couldn't see them. We roped up but because I was lighter than him I was out in front falling in them. So the next three or four hours I would fall into the crevasse and he would pull me out. We slowly worked our way across the glacier until we got to the saddle and made our way down. We survived another one there. There's lots of stories like that." 

A HABIT OF GETTING IN TROUBLE

Although they did their SAS training together, they did not see action in Afghanistan together although they each completed three missions.

"I think they split us up because we had a habit of getting into trouble together.

"He could not sit still. He would get bored with things very quickly. He had immense energy. When things got quiet and boring at work (SAS) that was when he would leave the army. He loved the army but he just wanted to be in action, in the thick of it. He didn't want to be doing any boring training back in camp. He wanted to be out there serving.

"That was his way, he wouldn't put up with mediocrity and climb his way through the ranks. He said 'I'm going to be a helicopter pilot full-time'."

'HE DIDN'T BECOME A COWBOY'

Both he and Askin found the combat in the SAS a "little bit addictive", Liam said.

"We spend so many years training and then we started doing a fair bit of it. It was satisfying work. It was high risk and high reward. It's hard to say goodbye to it.

Despite his nature, Askin became a very safety conscious helicopter pilot, Liam said.

"He was very good. He became an instructor very quickly. He polished his skills. In the last few years, he was a big advocate for flying safety. He didn't become a cowboy. He was being the mature person. A role model."

RESORCEFUL AND RESILIENT IN RUATORIA

Askin's father Paul, a retired school teacher, also spoke further about his son on Friday expressing his family's gratitude for the Givealittle campaign.

Steve Askin was born in Roxburgh and from there the family moved to Auckland. They came back to Canterbury for a period and then spent six years in Ruatoria and the next three in Gisborne. A couple of years at Lincoln High in Canterbury completed Steve's schooling.

"He finished at Lincoln less than spectacularly. He was very smart but he wasn't too bothered about trying to be an academic," Paul said.

Steve then worked as a musterer on Glenthorne Station near Rakaia before joining the army as a "grunt".

"The kids grew up resourceful, resilient. We rented a house on a back country station in Ruatoria. They were out hunting in the hills and swimming in the river and all that stuff from an early age. They were confident with knives and firearms and camping out. They had no TV. They had to make their own fun."

The family lived in an almost exclusively Maori community being one of the only pakeha in the area.

"Not all of New Zealand is as white as Canterbury," Paul said. "But race was never an issue. They were a bunch of kids at school. They were mostly Maori."

ASKIN A VISUAL METAPHOR FOR THE TREATY 

In 1990 Askin and another local boy Wayne Tuapawa became a visual metaphor for the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi, eating mussels on the beach for television advertisements.

Paul said his son did his first overseas tour in East Timor, where one of his mates was killed. He then left the army and started to train as a helicopter pilot but remained in the territorials eventually doing the SAS selection course.

"It was not that he always wanted to get in. But it's the pinnacle of the army and you have a go."

After his first tour in Afghanistan, Steve quit the army, married, had a child but the army enticed him back. He learned Pashtun and did another two tours. 

APIATA AND ASKIN

In Afghanistan he was involved in the same action for which Willie Apiata received the Victoria Cross. 

"He told me a lot of what went on. But it was very quiet. You know he got as high an award as you can get without getting a VC and I'm glad he didn't because it would have killed him. They are a monkey on your back.

"He didn't want that. He told me one day 'I've got the respect of my mates and that's all I need'.

"He was loved his wife and his kids passionately. He was a very strong family man. He had a growing faith in God.

"He wasn't perfect. He wasn't a saint. He got up to lots of mischief. As a teenager he was an absolute pain and caused us great grief. He thought rules and regulations were absolutely fine as long as he agreed with them but he was very well thought of and trusted by people who knew him. If you were in a tight spot he would be the guy you would want with you."

 - Stuff

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