‘I apologise for being alive’

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The Dominie forced down by engine failure is pictured early the following morning in the Shotover River PICTURE: JIM DIMOFF

A Queenstown aircraft accident 51 years ago has inspired a book by the pilot’s son, who was astounded by the inadequacies of the official investigation. Philip Chandler captures the book’s flavour ahead of its local launch this Sunday.

It’s April 15, 1967.

Experienced Tourist Air Travel (TAT) pilot Brian Waugh is flying a veteran Dominie biplane with two American passengers from Te Anau to Queenstown.

Over Lake Wakatipu, the port engine vibrates and falters.

Waugh’s not too concerned as he’s experienced 10 engine failures, four on Dominies.

Over Queenstown, however, the starboard engine also falters.

Overshooting the runway, he hopes to turn round and land into the wind from the eastern end, but, lacking power, decides instead to land on a shingle beach in the bed of the Shotover River.

Premature: The stricken Dominie is burnt the day after the accident, well before air accident inspectors arrive PICTURE: MIKE HOCKEY

The Dominie pitches nose-first, however, into the river.

Waugh, his safety belt broken, catapults through the windscreen and lands in the river, too.

His body, especially his head and right ankle, is badly smashed.

TAT engineer John Muir, who’d been drinking at the nearby Lower Shotover Hotel, rescues both passengers and the pilot.

Waugh later says he was “extremely lucky” to survive, even if it abruptly ended his long flying career.

Fast-forward 50 years to April last year, the late pilot’s son, aviation historian Richard Waugh, organises a Queenstown reunion for staff and families of this region’s small pioneering airlines.

Muir can’t make the event but tells Richard: “The most vivid highlight has to be fishing Brian Waugh out of the Shotover River 50 years ago.”

Richard says that comment “sparked a renewed interest in the Shotover accident”, along with a flight during the reunion on a sister Dominie.

“However I was astounded at what I found in the archival files at National Archives, and the story of the inadequate air accident investigation,” he tells Mountain Scene.

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