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Village farewells plane crash victims

Communal grief: Friends and family gathered at the Billen Cliffs Hall to pay their last respects to Josef Hainaut and Michael O’Keeffe who lost their lives in an ultralight crash.
Communal grief: Friends and family gathered at the Billen Cliffs Hall to pay their last respects to Josef Hainaut and Michael O’Keeffe who lost their lives in an ultralight crash. Cathy Adams

THEY say it takes a whole village to raise a child.

Yesterday Billen Cliffs village had the heartbreaking task of saying goodbye to two of its own at a double funeral held at its community hall.

Josef Hainaut, 20, and Michael O’Keeffe, 27, died on May 7 in an ultralight aircraft crash at Tatham, south-east of Casino.

About 500 people gathered to share their memories and stories and to celebrate the lives of the young men, who were childhood friends.

Those who spoke during the service remembered Mr Hainaut as a passionate, mysterious, deep and curious man who liked to walk the Earth barefoot.

He was also known for his sense of humour and justice.

He was the son of Paul, and Marie Hainaut, and the brother of Helene, 22, and Tomas, 18.

Related: Dead pilot was experienced flyer

His mother said she was overwhelmed by the support and help she had received in the days since her son’s death.

“It has been incredible and beautiful,” she said.

Members of the Datsun car club to which Mr Hainaut belonged joined the cavalcade from Mullumbimby to Billen Cliffs.

Mr O’Keeffe, who had formed deep bonds with a number of families in the community, was remembered as a man who was ‘enamoured’ of the world.

“He was a bright star burning fast and furious, radiating energy,” his friend Keith Willott, of Sydney, said.

“You could see passion, generosity and intelligence.”

He loved mechanics, computers and electronics, and was described as a wild child who ‘could love deeply.’

His upbringing was described as tough, but he tried hard to do the best he could, his friends said.

He was the son of Kieran, partner of Michelle and father to Ashlin.

He was due to become a father for the second time in the coming days.

Mr Willott said fatherhood had changed Mr O’Keeffe profoundly.

Another friend said Mr O’Keeffe had fitted 60 years of living into his short life.

The dead men had shared a passion for flying.

Mr Hainaut will be buried at the community’s ‘burial grounds’.

Mr O’Keeffe’s ashes will also be scattered there.


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