Special reunion celebrates history of Queenstown aviation pioneers

REMARKABLE: A 2014 photograph of Dominie ZK-AKY being flown by pilot Adam Butcher. The aircraft was also operated by New Zealand National Airways in the 1940s and 1950s. Photo supplied.

An enthusiastic group of aviation pioneers and their families will gather in Queenstown from April 7-9 for a special reunion organised by local aviation historian, Rev Dr Richard Waugh.

Sponsored by Air Milford Ltd and Queenstown Airport Corporation, the reunion will be attended by many retired pilots and engineers to celebrate the work of pioneer airlines operating in Queenstown during the mid-1900’s.

Dr Waugh, who is the senior minister of the East City Wesleyan Church in Botany and organises the annually-held Auckland Brit and Euro Car Show, has a rich family history in aviation.

His family lived in Queenstown for a couple of years while his late father Brian Waugh was employed by Southern Scenic Air Services as a pilot.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of Southern Scenic Air Services – the pioneer airline of Queenstown in 1947 – when the airport consisted of an isolated grass airstrip at Frankton.

Now boasting an international airport facility, Queenstown attracts travellers from all over the world and many from east Auckland, said Dr Waugh.

“As a youngster I used to catch the old Bedford bus into town for school and Queenstown – even 50 years ago – was a real tourist town.

“So many Howick people cherish their visits to Queenstown and virtually all of them fly in, hardly realising the remarkable aviation history which has changed from a grass airstrip to now one of the fastest-growing international airports in the Southern Hemisphere.”

Dr Waugh clearly remembers the day local airline manager Bill Davies came knocking on the door of his family home to tell his mother, “Jean… Brian’s been in an accident!”

It was the afternoon of 15 April 1967, and Mr Waugh had experienced one engine failure on a flight from Te Anau to Queenstown.

Upon approach to Queenstown Airport, the second engine also gave up, losing all power.

“He force-landed the Dominie aircraft in the Shotover River, and while injured, he and his two American tourist passengers survived. As my older brother recently remarked, ‘some similarities to Captain Sully and the Hudson River accident’.”

A MIRACLE: The Dominie ZK-AKT being recovered from the water after the April accident survived by pilot Brian Waugh and passengers. Photo supplied.

It was a miracle his father survived the events of that day after going through the windscreen, said Dr Waugh.

The airlines being celebrated at the reunion are Southern Scenic Air Services, West Coast Airways, Ritchie Air Services, Tourist Air Travel and the early years of Mount Cook Airline general aviation at Queenstown up until the mid 1970’s.