An east Auckland expert on one of New Zealand’s most enduring aviation mysteries remains hopeful it will be solved during his lifetime.
No one knows what happened to the de Havilland DH90A Dragonfly ZK-AFB that took off from Christchurch International Airport in the South Island on February 12, 1962.
Five people were on board for a sightseeing trip destined for Queenstown and Milford Sound.
Piloted by captain Brian Chadwick, it never made it to its destination and its wreckage has never been found.
Chadwick was “great friends” with fellow pilot Brian Waugh, who was the father of well-known east Auckland resident Rev Dr Richard Waugh, the founding pastor at East City Wesleyan Church in Burswood.
Waugh is a leading aviation historian and the Honorary Chaplain of the Company of Air Pilots.
He’s New Zealand’s foremost expert on the disappearance of the aircraft in 1962 and the author of a book on the case entitled Lost … without trace? Brian Chadwick and the missing Dragonfly.
Waugh’s father was first to conduct an aerial search for the missing Dragonfly from his West Coast base.
“He was chief pilot for West Coast Airways and subsequently spent about five years aerial searching for his friend to no avail,” he says.
On board the Dragonfly aircraft that fateful day with Chadwick were passengers Louis Rowan, an Australian aged in his 20s who was on holiday in New Zealand, fellow Australian Darrell Shiels, who was in his early 30s, and honeymooning couple Elwyn Saville, 20, and his wife Valerie Saville, 22.
They took off just before 10am and expected to arrive at their destination just after 12.30pm.
When they hadn’t arrived after 1pm the alarm was raised with the authorities and a search and rescue operation launched soon after.
Last year marked the 60th anniversary of the disappearance.
About 100 people interested in the mystery recently gathered at the Canterbury Aero Club in the South Island for a public event organised and attended by Waugh, to discuss what could have happened to the plane.
Waugh says he’s “not entirely” surprised the plane is yet to be found and says the area where it went missing is remote and inaccessible.
“On a sunny day it looks fantastic with the bush, the mountains, and the snow, but it’s as rugged as anywhere in the world.
“In the lower South Island there’s a number of aircraft that have gone missing and not been found.
“This particular aircraft was the first to go missing. It’s very mountainous with lots of small aircraft scenic flying and changeable weather so all those factors must have conspired.”
Waugh says the aircraft’s path from Christchurch to Milford Sound covered a vast area and there were several routes Chadwick could have taken depending on the weather.
“The weather was a bit cloudy and that would have determined his route.
“There wasn’t the same sophisticated radio equipment and it didn’t have a crash transmitter.
“With any of the searches they need to come up with a good theory and then work out the hot spot.
“It’s not as easy as it sounds.”
Eight of the people who attended the gathering at the Canterbury Aero Club were relatives of the passengers of the missing Dragonfly.
“They’ve never had a funeral for their brother or their mother, so the families are very appreciative of continuing initiatives even after 61 years,” Waugh says.
“It doesn’t go away.”
He says he hopes the aircraft will be located in his lifetime.
“Maybe it’s technology of some kind that will find this aircraft.
“It could be someone lost off the track and all of a sudden they kick and something and think, ‘what’s this?’
“It could happen that way or it will be technology in future years.”
West Coast Police led a three-day search operation, as part of ongoing efforts to find the plane’s wreckage, in South Westland in late February.
A police spokesperson says the pre-planned search was in an area of interest south of Fox Glacier Village, utilising search and rescue groups from across the South Island.
No items of significance were discovered.