A pilot who lost his life in a New Year’s Day airplane crash in Northland has been called a “passionate aviator” who was committed to his work as a rescue helicopter pilot.
Dean Voelkerling and a passenger who has not yet been identified died when the light airplane they were travelling in fell from the sky just after midday on Monday and slammed into a paddock in Te Kopuru, south of Dargaville.
Voelkerling was the Operations Manager of the Northland Emergency Services Trust (NEST), trust chairman Paul Ahlers confirmed on Tuesday.
“We are all in shock over this tragic loss. Dean was an excellent well-respected pilot and a great guy.
“He worked tirelessly to help improve the rescue helicopter service and would always make himself available to anyone who needed help, advice or assistance. Dean was a passionate aviator and if there could be any consolation in his passing, it was that he died doing what he loved – flying.”
He said Voelkerling had a long and colourful career in emergency services.
He started pilot training while working as an advanced paramedic for the Wellington Free Ambulance and crewing the Westpac Rescue Helicopter.
After working as a dedicated advanced paramedic for more than 20 years, he changed careers, beginning as a co-pilot with NEST in 2004.
While employed by NEST, Voelkerling had helped out other rescue services in Rockhampton, Australia and in the Solomon Islands.
“He will be sorely missed by everyone here at NEST, and our thoughts and condolences are with his family at this very sad time,” Ahlers said.
Police haven’t named the other person involved in the crash yet.
Whangarei Flying Club captain Rusty Russell said the pair were seen flying out of Whangarei Airport around midday on Monday.
A short time later Voelkerling’s homebuilt Van’s RV 7 two-seater aircraft crashed into a dairy farm paddock.
Brian Linkhorn, a friend of Voelkerling’s who worked with him as a paramedic for over 10 years at the Wellington Free Ambulance, said the man was a “gem in the rough”.
“He was so switched on and just worked at a really frantic pace to try and make sure that his patients got the best treatment.
“The ambulance community, and I would say the Northland Rescue Helicopter and anyone that Dean Voelkerling has touched will be very saddened by what has happened – because you could never find a nicer guy.”
Condolences and tributes poured in over social media.
Peter Lund said Voelkerling would will be sorely missed by everyone.
“He made a real difference to thousands of people’s lives both as a paramedic and a superb, dedicated pilot for NEST. It was an honour being his friend and working with him.”