Sutherland Shire family travel to Northern Territory to mark 10th anniversary of the death of pilot Hadleigh Smith

A Sutherland Shire family will gather in the Northern Territory this weekend to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of their son and brother, pilot Hadleigh McMillan Smith whose plane crashed in the waters off Arnhem Land on October 16, 2008.

Hadleigh’s father, Steward Smith said the family will gather on Elcho Island in north-eastern Arnhem Land to to mark the anniversary of his death.

Hadleigh, 23, was working as a pilot with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) flying into remote Aboriginal communities when his plane, a Gippsland Airvan VH-WRT crashed into Buckingham Bay at around 9am in the morning of October 16, 2008.

“Unfortunately he was not reported missing until around 2pm,” Stewart Smith said.

“As a consequence, Hadleigh nor his aircraft have ever been found as tidal action most likely took the aircraft out into the Arafura Sea.

“He has no grave so the family are gathering in Galiwinku on Elcho Island, the point of departure on that fateful day, this coming weekend for a church service with the local Aborigine community and members of MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) in his honour.

“Hadleigh was born in New Zealand on February 20, 1985, which makes him 23 when he died.

“He emigrated with his family to Australia in January, 1999 and lived with his family in Auburn Street, Kirrawee until he moved north.

“He became an Australian Citizen on January 26, 2002. He attended Kirrawee High School and was a member of the local ATC (Air Training Corps) and a Gunner in the Sutherland Unit Army reserves.

“Although he became an Australian citizen, he a passionate supporter of the NZ All Blacks right up until the time he died.

“He attended NSW TAFE where in July, 2005 he gained a diploma in Applied Science (Aviation). He also attended Bible College Victoria where in 2007 he gained a Certificate in Mission Aviation (Flight).

“Hadleigh learned to fly with Liverpool Flying School at Hoxton Park where he gain his private pilots licence and commercial pilots licence. He began his career as a flying instructor with Liverpool Flying School.

“In March 2008, he moved to Elcho Island to commence flying for MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship).

“At the time of his accident, Hadleigh had a total of 1300 hours flying experience including 700 landings and take offs.”

According to a report by MAF’s David Henry, a small amount of aircraft debris including a wheel and a seat cushion were located the day after the crash but local tides and currents could have carried the aircraft debris a long distance from the point of impact.

“He had been accepted almost instantly with gratitude and affection into the largely indigenous community of Elcho Island in Arnhem Land.

“Hadleigh was remembered for his sense of humanity, his laughter, his compassion, his sense of quiet determination and his skills and experience as a pilot,” Mr Henry said.

“Memorial services were held for Hadleigh in Sydney and on Elcho Island where local Aboriginal people came to weep and pay tribute.”

Hadleigh has two older sisters and a younger brother. The sisters, both now married, live in Revesby and Padstow and younger brother, also married, lives in Oyster Bay, who with their parents will remember their brother on October 16.