‘Stunned and shocked’ by deaths

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Twizel-based Department of Conservation rangers Scott Theobald (left) and Paul Hondelink were preparing to undertake tahr control work when their helicopter crashed on takeoff at Wanaka last week.

by Greta Yeoman

The two Department of Conservation rangers killed in the helicopter crash in Wanaka last week were both from Twizel.

Paul Hondelink (63) and Scott Theobald (59) were set to undertake tahr control work in the Haast area last Thursday, when their helicopter crashed just after take-off, killing the pair and pilot Nick Wallis (38).

Doc director general Lou Sanson said staff were “stunned and shocked” by their deaths.

“Our hearts go out to Paul’s and Scott’s loved ones, who are grappling with an unimaginable loss.”

He also paid tribute to the family of Mr Wallis, whose brother Matthew also died in a helicopter crash three months ago.

They were the sons of aviation pioneer and Warbirds Over Wanaka founder Sir Tim Wallis.

Nick Wallis

The family had had a long connection with the Department of Conservation, particularly in connection with pest control work, Mr Sanson said.

Mr Hondelink, who had worked for Doc since the organisation began in 1987, was previously based in Wanaka but had moved to Twizel.

He had pioneered Judas goat and tahr control work, while Mr Theobald was a world pioneer in the use of dogs to detect predators.

Mr Theobald began working for the department in 1996 and first used dogs in 1998 to detect stoats at Trounson Kauri Park in Northland.

Mr Sanson said the pair had some of the most significant conservation experience in the country and potentially the world.

“We have lost so much . . . Thousands of native birds are alive because of them.”

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage described the two men as “conservation legends”.

“This is a tragedy for their families and Doc staff,” she said.