Pilot dies doing what he loved
By Brian Bigg and AAP
THE pilot who led the battle against the bushfire in Bundjalung National Park at Evans Head in October has been killed in a plane crash.
Col Pay, one of the most experienced pilots in Australia, died when his aircraft crashed into a lake in the NSW Hunter region yesterday.
An Air Services Australia spokeswoman said the plane, a Air Tractor model AT 802 fire-bomber, usually used for water-bombing, went down at Lake Liddell, north-west of Singleton.
Mr Pay, who was in his 70s, had more than 30,000 hours and 50 years experience in command of aircraft.
In October, he held the call sign 'Bomber One' when he led the fleet of aeroplanes and helicopters which water-bombed the blaze in the national park near Evans Head.
The intense, week-long firebombing brought the fire under control before too much of the park had been destroyed, and before it could threaten nearby homes.
Scone Aero Club president Neville Partridge said the local flying community was in shock.
"He had more than half a century of flying experience," Mr Partridge said.
"Without doubt, he was one of the most experienced pilots."
Police divers late yesterday undertook a search of the lake to locate Mr Pay's body.
A spokeswoman for Pay's Air Service said Mr Pay was the only person in the plane at the time of the crash.
She was unable to say what work he was carrying out at the time, but other reports say Mr Pay had been testing new equipment.
Mr Pay was also one of the country's best-known collectors of war birds. He had once owned the only flying Spitfire in Australia, as well as a Mustang, a Tiger Moth and a Kittyhawk. He and his planes made several appearances at air shows on the North Coast.
President of the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Committee Incorporated, Dr Richard Gates, said the Evans Head Community appreciated what Mr Pay had done for the town. "At least he died doing what he loved," Dr Gates said.