Families mourn glider pilots killed in Namibia crash

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Two well-known identities of New Zealand gliding have died in a crash in a remote area of Namibia.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has confirmed they were David Speight, 72, and Bill Walker, 66, who both lived in the Queenstown area.

In a statement this morning, the Walker and Speight families say: “Our families are devastated to lose such wonderful men and experienced pilots, we would like to thank our family and friends, and especially the extended gliding fraternity for their support.

“The families now request privacy at this difficult time.”

The Namibian authorities are still investigating the crash, the families say.

“We can confirm they were on a local reconnaissance flight when the incident happened and it is believed they were killed on impact.” 

David first learned to glide at the Taieri Plains near Dunedin in 1959. 

Bill began gliding in the early 1970s and was influential in the development of the Omarama Airfield. 

One of his proudest moments was bringing the World Gliding Championships to Omarama in 1995.

The New Zealand High Commission in Pretoria is providing consular advice and support to the families.

In a statement yesterday, Gliding New Zealand president Karen Morgan says: “The people involved are respected pilots within the gliding community, and our thoughts are with their families and friends.”

Morgan, of Balclutha, tells the Otago Daily Times last night Namibian authorities – thought to include police and accident investigators – were at the crash scene.

“But they aren’t in [mobile phone] coverage so it will be evening in Namibia, which is morning in New Zealand, before we hear any more.

“There’s nothing official, nothing confirmed, nobody’s been identified.”

The crash is thought to have happened early yesterday New Zealand time.

The New Zealanders were understood to be flying with a Namibian commercial operator.

A gliding source said last night: “It’s absolutely devastating. I would say 90 per cent of the gliding community would be hit by this.

“They’re really well-respected.”

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman Stephen Parker said the ministry “can confirm reports of a fatal gliding accident in Namibia involving two New Zealand citizens”.

“The families of the two New Zealanders have requested privacy at this difficult time.”

Fly-in safaris are popular with visitors, Namibia Tourism’s website says.

The Bitterwasser glider strip in the Hardap region is popular with pilots from around the world.

The period between November 1 and January 31 is the busy season.

david.williams@odt.co.nz