09 January 2022

Brian Chadwick's Air Charter

The finding of an old aircraft harness has prompted questions on the West Coast that it might come from Air Charter's de Havilland Dragonfly ZK-AFB. The Hokitika Guardian of the 9th of December 2021 reported on the finding and this was followed up on the 13th as follows...

A seat harness from an early aircraft washed up in South Westland has now attracted global interest. Images of the belt have been shared among aviation historians and pilots around New Zealand in the hope it can be traced to a lost wreckage. The Civil Aviation Authority has also opened its own investigations. The preserved relic was found by a Fox Glacier couple during the whitebait season near a remote river mouth. Aviation chaplain and author Richard Waugh said there were five aircraft still missing in the Haast-Milford-Mt Aspiring "Bermuda Triangle" and the discovery could be a clue in finding any one of those wreckages. One of the most searched for missing planes is the de Havilland Dragonfly ZK-AFB, which departed Christchurch for Milford Sound on a scenic flight in February 1962. The plane, pilot Brian Chadwick, and four tourist were never seen again. An engineer and pilot of the De Havilland Fox Moth Club and De Havilland Aviation Museum in England, familiar with the Chadwick story, said he believed the rusty seat belt fitting was definitely a De Havilland. He said it appeared to be from the middle row seat of a Dragonfly as middle row seat harnesses were a different arrangement to the other seat belt systems within the fuselage. However, a Southland owner of an earlier Dragonfly was not convinced. They said due to the monocoque type construction of the Dragonfly, only lap strap type harness were fitted for the pilot of all passengers. "The strap in photo shows an additional strap attached at 90 degrees to the main web. In the Dragonfly, only the floor would take the loading, hence a single wider web belt was used." He had seen similar webbing and end fittings used by army personnel in Canada. Mr Waugh said it was possible the belt could be from an old Cessna.

And that would be my pick as well. If I had to guess I would say (without any knowledge of the seat belt layout) would be Cessna 172 ZK-CSS. On the 30th of July 1983 Roy Turner and his family took off from Tekapo on a flight to Fox Glacier. Contact was made with Hokitika Flight Service which I heard on my scanner in Hokitika indicating it was high. The conditions were solid overcast at about 5000-8000 feet from memory with no holes in the cloud. This was passed on to the pilot. The plane was never seen or heard from again. My theory is that he flew out to sea and attempted to descend through the cloud.

If this is correct that still leaves the mystery of what happened to the Air Charter Dragonfly. What follows is the story of Brian Chadwick's "Air Charter." 


After the collapse of Trans-Island Airways, Brian Chadwick, the former chief pilot for Trans-Island and before that South Island Airways, bought de Havilland DH89B Dominie ZK-BCP (c/n 6648) and in June 1959 formed his own charter operation which was simply called Air Charter which he operated on temporary licences until April 1960.

Air Charter's de Havilland DH89B Dominie, ZK-BCP


Brian Chadwick was an Englishman and a former Royal Air Force pilot who had started flying in 1940 and who arrived in New Zealand in 1957. He also held engineering licences.


In April 1960 his application to operate an air charter service from Christchurch’s Harewood airport was finally heard by the Air Services Licensing Authority. The application was opposed by Canterbury Aero Club which at the hearing, produced evidence of its own long-standing intentions to increase its commercial charter work.

Creating business, a charter to motor racing in Invercargill... The Press 20 January 1960

... and to horse racing. The Press, 10 February 1960


Brian Chadwick gave evidence stating that of his 5500 flying hours logged more than 3000 had been in Rapides or Dominies. In “going it alone” he had arranged hangar, office, and workshop space at Harewood and he flew his service on a month-to-month licence pending the hearing. He had done fairly well, being very busy since October. One of his best clients was the North Canterbury Hospital Board, a letter from which was produced stating that it was satisfied with the air ambulance service. During the summer the Parachute Club had used his plane extensively. “To the best of my knowledge it is the only suitable aircraft for static jumping in the area,” he said. The Union Steam Ship Company had chartered the plane when the ferry had been overbooked, owners and breeders often chartered the machine (including flights to the last three night trotting meetings at Wellington) and scenic flights had been arranged through the Government Tourist Bureau. Chadwick said that when he first applied for a charter licence he approached Airwork, Ltd., and the club, and asked whether either had any objection to his plan. Neither objected. Gavin Stokes, sales and publicity representative of the Government Tourist Bureau, said the bureau had arranged 14 charters with Mr Chadwick’s plane since November. The bureau had found the service helped overseas tourists with only a day or two to spare to see remote scenic, lake, alpine, and glacial areas.


On the 5th of April 1960 Brian Chadwick was granted permission by the Air Services Licensing Authority yesterday to fly an air charter service from Christchurch to any place in New Zealand.


On the 31st of May 1960 an article appeared in the Press detailing the success of Air Charter’s southern scenic flights… The Government Tourist Bureau is considering increasing the number of its South Island air charter flights during the coming tourist season next summer. This was announced in Christchurch yesterday by the local tour officer (Mr L. G. Hunt), who said that since their inauguration two months ago the flights had proved surprisingly popular among both overseas visitors and New Zealanders. Operating on an average two flights a week, the air charter service, through the Tourist Bureau, had already carried nearly 100 passengers on the Milford Sound and Southern Alps scenic flights. ‘'The present flight schedule however, cannot cope with the large number of reservations being made, so we are now considering operating up to five flights a week during the summer tourist season.” said Mr Hunt. In time it was hoped to extend still further these services by including landings at Mount Cook Te Anau and other scenic spots said Mr B Chadwick, pilot-manager of the one-man company running the service. Passengers on these flights agreed that they were almost unmatched in scenic attraction said Mr Chadwick.


In December 1960, with a growing business, Brian Chadwick returned to the Air Services Licensing Authority, seeking an amendment to his air service licence to allow an air taxi service to be operated. His counsel told the Authority, Chadwick’s present licence only allowed him to take charter parties on scenic flights. If he was granted an amendment to operate a taxi licence he would be able to satisfy a growing demand from tourists who wanted to book individual seats on the plane. Chadwick had almost pioneered scenic flights to Milford, and his present service, which was well’ patronised by tourists, would increase if tourists who were only in Christchurch for a few days could book seats without waiting for a party to be made up. The air taxi service was granted on the 13th of December.

Air Charter was always looking for opportunities to create business. On the 23rd and 24th of December 1960 Air Charter operated flights from the Birdlings Flat airstrip to the glaciers for pre-booked passengers aboard the cruise ship Himalaya, which was berthed at Akaroa. Six flights were planned over the two days. In January 1961 the company introduced special evening “starlight flights” so Christchurch residents and visitors could see the city by night. The Press offered a feature on the flights. Organised by the Government Tourist Bureau in cooperation with the pilot manager of the company (Captain B. Chadwick) the flights are already attracting considerable interest. Operating from Christchurch airport about 9 p.m. on selected evenings, the flight, lasting nearly half an hour, encircles the city at a height of 1000 feet, taking in a wide sweep the principal sights of Christchurch. Clearly visible under average evening conditions are the main highways leading out of Christchurch and the majestic line of lights along Memorial avenue. Also recognisable in the centre of the city are the Christchurch Hospital, the Canterbury Museum and the dark streak of the river Avon winding among the streets. Almost dramatically dominating this surprisingly vast panorama, is the brilliantly floodlit Cathedral spire and encircling Square. Amidst the strikingly neat square pattern of the city’s streets, which seem to stand out more forcibly in these conditions, its impact is striking. The dazzling yellow of the long straight roads, the flickering colours of roadside and shop signs and the glaring blue and red clusters of the airport lights seem to give an atmosphere more reminiscent of the larger brightly lit cities of the world.

With business increasing Brian Chadwick bought a second aircraft and on the 5th of May 1961 de Havilland DH90 Dragonfly ZK-AFB (c/n 7560) was added to Air Charter’s fleet.

Air Charter's de Havilland DH90 Dragonfly ZK-AFB. The titles on the nose are Kiwi Rover

A spectacular scenic, The Press 19 September 1961

On the 12th of February 1962 Brian Chadwick took off with four passengers on a Christchurch to Milford Sound in the Dragonfly, ZK-AFB. The aircraft never arrived. Despite a large scale search and rescue operation no trace of the aircraft or its five occupants have ever been found.

1 comment:

  1. I was on a flight in January 1962 with Chadwick on ZK-BCP. The flight path was exactly as described above after the usual route through the SAlps via Clyde Havelock rivers, Minarets, glaciers, Mts Tasman and Cook to Haast, thence along the coast to Milford. The weather was patchy but it is all shown on 8mm film some posted on YouTube. After Milford, Arthur River to Sutherland Falls, Te Anau, Whakatipu, Queenstown for fuel (where Chadwick was presented with a large Rainbow trout from a Southern Scenic floatplane- shades of Jim Collins Blue Cod - but all shown clearly on my film). Then Wanaka, Lindis pass back to ChCh. There was one incident between Southerland Falls and Whakatipu when we were caught out in the most heavy downdraft and I now realise that we were very lucky to escape. To see the film, just go to YouTube search and put in my name and Brian Chadwick rare film, there is the Air Charter Dominie passengers boarding. Richard Waughs book “Lost without Trace?” show all the passengers except my father who took the photograph, with me standing next to Chadwick, on the back cover. That photo had been given to Chadwicks parents in Rochford Essex in 1962 by my father.