16 Jan 2010

Brother pays tribute to Red Checkers pilot

7:29 pm on 16 January 2010

The family of Air Force aerobatics pilot Nick Cree, killed while on a practice run with the elite Red Checkers squad, have spoken for the first time about their loss.

The 32-year-old squadron leader was killed on Thursday morning when his CT-4E Airtrainer crashed at Santoft, west of Bulls in Manawatu, as he practised an aerobatic manoeuvre.

At a news conference on Friday, Eliott Cree was emotional as he spoke about his older brother's love of flying, joining the Air Force at the age of 18 and serving in East Timor and Solomon Islands.

Mr Cree said being selected for the Red Checkers was a career highlight.

He said Squadron Leader Cree was an excellent sportsman and proud father of new son Jackson after marrying his high school sweetheart, Sarah.

Mr Cree says his brother would have no regrets about how he lived his life.

Red Checkers grounded

The Red Checkers will not fly until the cause of the fatal crash near the Air Force's Ohakea base is discovered.

Air Force chief Air Vice-Marshal Graham Lintott says it's baffling, as flying conditions were perfect and Mr Cree was a highly skilled and decorated pilot.

He says accident investigators and engineers are working at the crash site, but it could be weeks until they release their findings.

The Red Checkers were scheduled to fly aerobatic displays every weekend for the next few months.

However, the Air Force says the planes will stay on the ground until they discover what caused Squadron Leader Cree's plane to crash.