Members of the local Squadron Air Training Corps pay their respects at Sholto Duncan’s grave. Photo: Tim Cuff.

Victim of Air Force’s worst crash remembered

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The Nelson victim of the Royal New Zealand Airforce’s worst ever disaster has been remembered by the next generation of cadets – 65 years after it happened.

The crash at Wigram, which killed seven men near Christchurch in 1953, remains the worst RNZAF crash in New Zealand history.

Among the victims was Nelsonian Sholto Duncan, who was buried at Wakapuaka Cemetery.

Sholto Duncan was a decorated war veteran.
Sholto Duncan was a decorated war veteran.

Sholto was the squadron leader and was a well-known and decorated war veteran, having flown fighter aircraft in the Pacific during World War II, from 1943 to 1945.

On Sunday members of the local Squadron Air Training Corps paid their respects at Sholto’s grave. There was a short speech, a calling of the roll of honour for those who had died and a rendition of the Last Post.

Armed forces veteran Brian Ramsay says it’s important that such occasions are marked.

“It’s about remembering these people who served their country. It’s saying to them that they will not be forgotten.”

The incident came after two Royal New Zealand Air Force De Havilland Devons, collided over Wigram Aerodrome. They had been part of the last section of a 27 aircraft flypast over Harewood International Airport marking the 1953 London to Christchurch Air Race Prize Giving Ceremony.

On Monday an official memorial was also unveiled at the crash site in Christchurch. It was the result of the work of retired engineer and Halswell community stalwart Ron Fensom who campaigned for years to get something to mark the incident.

John Duncan, formerly of Founders Brewery and Sholto’s son, made the trip south for the occasion.

“My whole life every time I see a plane fly over it reminds me of my dad, so it’s still a daily thing.”

The Press the next day described the crash sites as “piles of broken and tangled wreckage”. The engines were “deeply embedded in the earth under the wreckage”.

For John Duncan, the occasion was important to be there for.

“It was very good, quite poignant really and in some ways, it bought some sort of closure.”