06 January 2023

(10) Cliff Lewis' Air Travel Memoirs



Part 10 of a twelve part memoir written by Cliff Lewis, an Air Travel (NZ) pilot... 

This memoir relates to my my larger post on Air Travel (NZ) Ltd which can be found here -


Chapter 10 - Overcoming Simple Problems

By this time the South Westland air service was well established. We had the confidence of the Coasters and we now had radio stations to provide us with all the weather information we needed. Landing strips were marked out and some of them were being enlarged. So what next? 

We need larger aircraft fitted with radio. The directors of the company recognised this and decided to purchase at a de Havilland 90 Dragonfly seating six, including the pilot, and able to be used as a hospital case aircraft with a stretcher. 

This meant that one of our Fox Moths would become idle unless we acquired another pilot. So, once again, Bert Mercer chose a man whom he himself had taught to fly. Jimmy Neave from the Canterbury Aero Club. He fulfilled every requirement that Bert Mercer desired and became a most likeable character to all South Westland. 

This Dragonfly aircraft enabled us to bring wonderful assistance to many Coasters and also visitors from overseas. From here on we had no trouble dealing with serious hospital cases. We had an aircraft that could deal with any emergency and be in contact at every minute of its flight. 

One particular incident comes to my mind. A man was killed when he fell down one of the Franz Josef Glacier's crevasses. He was recovered and although dead, we undertook the flight from Franz Josef to New Plymouth where he was eventually buried. Just another of Air Travel’s services to New Zealand. 

Upon another occasion we received a message from the Jackson Bay PWD camp that a member of the Public Works force had a very bad toothache and he required a dentist so urgently that he was prepared to pay the cost of an aeroplane to bring the dentist to him. Once again Air Travel came to a Coaster’s need and we flew Mr Max Coulson to Jackson Bay to relieve this unfortunate gentleman. Max not only relieved this gentleman of his pain. He also attended to many others who needed dental treatment and altogether extracted some 200 teeth at the camp. 

Another near occasion occurred to one of our pilots. We received a call from Bruce Bay that a lady was in the throws of a birth. We managed to get her to Hokitika, lucky for us, but not for the taxi driver who was taking her to hospital. The child arrived in his taxi. 

Before our aircraft service reached South Westland one Dinnie Nolan told us of an experience he had at one time. A man working at Okuru broke a leg and the only way to get him to hospital was to carry him out on a stretcher (made by 4x2s). They carried this man some 30 miles over a single bush track to the nearest roadhead at Maitahi. Dinnie told me that when the blister on his shoulder nearly reached his ear he nearly gave up. This is what West Coasters are made of. 

We also had another amazing flight. A lady from Okuru at the age of 45 received a message from Christchurch to come urgently to see an ailing sister. We took her to Hokitika railway station and she became most agitated. She did not mind the aeroplanes but explained to us that she had never seen a railway train and asked if we thought it was safe to travel on. Of course we reassured the lady that she had nothing to worry about. 

When we first operated into South Westland we normally thought of average loadings for such as parcels and average size people. However, upon this particular day I was detailed to pick up four passengers at Bruce Bay beach. I arrived to meet my passengers. There were three average size build but one was a lady of some 22 stone. My decision was not to offend the lady so I elected to fly her out to Franz Josef until I returned and picked up her companions. In the meantime I made an urgent request to Hokitika to supply a larger aircraft because I still had some further commitments in the far south. 

These are just some of the simple problems we were able to overcome.

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