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Olympic yachtsman found dead in plane + Video

by Richard Gladwell on 11 Apr 2011
Jason Geale (r) and top Canadian Laser sailor Mike Leigh with Geoff Smale winners of the OKI 24 Hour Race 2010. The fundraiser has grown to become something of an international event, this year America’’s Cup winning crews competed © Richard Gladwell www.richardgladwell.com

One of New Zealand's top sailors - 1968 Olympic representative and 1958 Price of Wales Trophy winner, Geoff Smale, has been found dead in the cockpit of his crashed microlight. He was en route from Auckland to Ashburton.

It is reported that an Airforce Iroquois helicopter found the wreckage, on Mount Duppa in the Bryant Range, about 20km north east of Nelson, around 2pm today, the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) says.

A paramedic was winched down to the wreckage and found Smale's body, the report says. His family has been informed.

Smale left Auckland's North Shore airfield late Saturday morning, and was due in Ashburton mid afternoon, the authorities were notified of the fact that he had not arrived around 5.00pm.

Four planes are initially searched the North and South Islands along the route of his flight.

Weather in the area was described as being good all through his route and no distress signal has been activated.

Smale (86) is described by Search and Rescue authorities as being a very experienced and very capable pilot who had made the 800km trip to Ashburton many times. He had not reported into the control tower at Wellington Airport, as was his usual practice, however it is not known if he had crossed Cook Strait or was still in the North Island.



It is reported in the print edition of the http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10718361!NZ_Herald that Smale's plane is fitted with a device known as a 'ballastic rocket' meaning that if there is an engine failure then a parachute can be fired that will lower the plane to the ground. If activated this would show on the ground as a large orange and white canopy. This initially created some hope that he would be found, along with the high standard of safety gear carried aboard the plane.

The report from The Dominion of 12 April can be read by http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/4874349/Pilot-died-on-route-he-flew-many-times!clicking_here

NZ Herald reports on the reaction to Smale's passing from two yachtsmen, Ralph Roberts and Graham Mander http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10718684!click_here to read. It says the incident will be investigated by Civil Aviation authorities.

On Sunday evening, the search was stood down and was reassessed on Monday morning. www.stuff.co.nz reported that RCC search and rescue officer Neville Blakemore said the radar track showed an aircraft leaving Auckland then disappearing from radar just South of Taharoa in the Waikato at about midday before resuming near Stratford in Taranaki before being lost again about 1pm near D’Urville Island in the Marlborough Sounds.

Additional data found Sunday afternoon showed the radar track moving south from Cape Soucis in Tasman Bay at 1.40pm down through Rai Valley, northeast of Nelson.

Early Sunday afternoon www.stuff.co.nz reported that rescuers had narrowed their search to two areas after information was provided about aircraft dropping off the radar yesterday along his microlight's expected route.

The aircraft, a white microlight with red detailing, had a nine-hour flying range and was capable of 135 knots (250kph), so was able to complete the flight without refuelling stops.

The weather along the route yesterday was good overall, with a few cloudy patches, Blakemore said.

RCC search and rescue officer Neville Blakemore said radar tracking information provided by the Airways Corporation showed an aircraft leaving from Auckland at about the same time as Smale, then disappearing from radar about an hour later just South of Taharoa in the Waikato.

The information was roughly consistent with the estimated timing, speed and possible route of Smale's aircraft.

A helicopter from the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust based in New Plymouth would carry out a thorough search of the area, Blakemore said.

As well, a fixed-wing plane from the Phillips Rescue Trust in Hamilton would fly a path between Auckland, Stratford and D'Urville Island in the Marlborough Sounds, after additional radar data provided by Airways showed an aircraft disappearing from radar about 1pm yesterday near D'Urville.

This was also roughly consistent with the estimated timing and possible route of Smale's aircraft.

Microlight pilot Mike Gray, of the Marlborough Aero Club, said flying conditions over Smale's route were good, except in Marlborough where a ''cyclonic gloom'' brought cloud cover down to about 250-400 metres.

''The higher you fly, the safer you are,'' Gray said. ''Once you get lower there are less options.''

It was in this area that Smale's plane crashed.

Smale was carrying a personal locator beacon, radio, radar transponder and cellphone. The beacon has not been activated and attempts to contact Smale have been unsuccessful, stuff.co.nz reported

Geoff Smale represented New Zealand in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, in the Flying Dutchman class and along with long time crew member Ralph Roberts won the 1958 Prince of Wales Trophy sailing in the International Fourteen class at Cowes, long regarded as the win which set New Zealand dinghy sailing on the international world stage. Many of those involved in the class moved acroos to the Flying Dutchman class culminating in the Gold Medal win by Helmer Pedersen and Earle Wells in 1964, on Sagami Bay, Tokyo, Japan.

He was one of the founding fathers of the Murrays Bay Sailing Club, and one of the most intelligent sailors that New Zealand has produced.


His Olympic campaigns were usually undertaken using sails he designed himself (except for spinnakers), and the sight became common of a Flying Dutchman rigged on his front lawn of his Campbells Bay clifftop home, downwind of a smoking grass fire so he could observe the wind flow over sails.

Along with Brin Wilson, who designed the hull, Smale was the designer of the rig for the Father and Son class, of the then Murrays Bay Boating Club's project to have a multipurpose dinghy suitable for father and son.

With projects like these, from a club run off the beach and using the basement of a local church hall as a base, the MBBC grew a strong reputation for developing young sailors including America's cup skippers Chris Dickson and Dean Barker. As a youth sailor Russell Coutts sailed from the club after moving to Auckland.

The Father and Son project led to the development of the 24 hour Race developed as a fundraiser on North Shore's Lake Pupuke, and of which the latest edition was sailed just last weekend.

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