Opinion: The day my son died in the Air Force Iroquois tragedy of 2010

  • 25/04/2020
A Royal New Zealand Air Force Iroquois helicopter
The helicopter was en route to perform a flyover at the Wellington Cenotaph for its official commemoration when it crashed into the hills above Pukerua Bay. Photo credit: Getty

Steve Gregory is father of Dan Gregory, who lost his life in the Air Force Iroquois tragedy of 2010. Here he reflects on that day, and how he and the family have coped.

OPINION: Today marks the 10th anniversary of the death of our eldest boy Dan, and two of his three other crew members, in a helicopter crash that became known as the Anzac Day tragedy

This is our story.

It was early morning, ANZAC Day 2010 and I was having a wash, while my wife Wendy was in the bedroom putting on her makeup at our place in Melbourne. She burst into the bathroom in an agitated state to tell me about the missed call and voice message, urging us to call Padre Janie back as soon as we could. 

We both knew that calls from Air Force Padres could only ever mean one thing. 

I distinctly remember a Super Rugby TV replay being on in the background and that I took a few seconds to dry my face before joining Wendy to make the return call. I remember being composed but also subconsciously trying to slow things down, because I knew we were about to receive a punch that would take our breaths away forever.

I could faintly hear the Padre’s voice from where I was standing, before Wendy let out a primal scream and dropped the phone as she collapsed. I remember the Padre saying he was dead, his body had been found - he was not injured or on his way to hospital. He wasn't even fighting for his life, he was dead. 

We had to return to New Zealand right away. News of the crash had spread quickly as it began breaking. When we got back to Auckland we were surrounded by family. Dan’s brother Stuart, who was living in our home, was the first family member to receive the news of the crash and had the longest time to cope with it - I always feel for him, having to hear it alone. 

I woke the next morning and it was a few peaceful seconds before my mind really became fully conscious and the events of the previous day crept in. 

We quickly accepted this was terrible, but we could get through it together. I certainly don't want to get a talking down from Dan in some afterlife as I try to explain why we dropped the ball - that would be embarrassing!

The family also came to another conclusion - Dan had been involved in an accident that was not of his making, and for which he could take no blame. That said, I understand and respect how the other families have responded.

I focus on remembering Dan. I talk to his photos which line the wall of our house. A bit of sadness now and again keeps him alive in my mind - I'm cool with that.

After the tragedy I became an inaugural member of the Missing Wingman's Trust. It has lived up to its purpose by providing financial and emotional support to dozens of RNZAF families whose lives have been touched by tragedy and adversity.