The skies over Wanaka hummed with the sound of dozens of aircraft on Saturday, as the town said its last goodbye to aviation legend Sir Tim Wallis.
A prominent southern businessman and founder of Warbirds over Wanaka, Sir Tim died surrounded by family at his home in the town on October 17. He was 85.
More than 2000 mourners packed the Alpine Helicopters hangar at Wanaka Airport, where the service, led by Archdeacon Damon Plimmer, was held from noon.
Large monitors and marquees had also been erected to accommodate the overflow, while many more viewed the two-hour service via a livestream on the Southern Lakes Funerals website.
In an emotional and often humorous tribute, son Jonathan Wallis said Sir Tim lived his life by one motto: ‘‘Never let what you can’t do stop you from doing what you can do’’.
‘‘It summed him up well,’’ he said.
‘‘And I think he would have comfort knowing that anyone and everyone can push down barriers if they want to, just as he did.’’
Hilary Smith, Sir Tim’s nurse of nine years, paid tribute to an ‘‘indestructible, twinkly-eyed friend’’ who always took the time to ask after the nurses’ families, and used his impeccable sense of direction to help navigate when they drove him around.
‘‘I think I can say on behalf of all the nurses that we’ve never met anyone with the strength and determination to match Tim’s,’’ she said.
Flanked by an honour guard of members of the Cardrona Curling Club, of which Sir Tim was patron, the coffin was then carried to his helicopter (call sign HOT), where people had the opportunity to pay their respects.
As mourners ate a venison lunch, they watched a flyover by members of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, followed by more than 20 helicopters making several circuits of the airfield, some carrying members of Sir Tim’s family.
Sir Tim’s coffin was then carried away by helicopter, which circled the gathering before flying towards Wanaka.
He will be cremated and his ashes later scattered among the mountains of Wanaka.
In closing his eulogy, Jonathan Wallis spoke of the time when Sir Tim took his newly acquired spitfire on its first test flight at Whenuapai Air Force Base in Auckland.
‘‘No-one ever quite knew how this onelegged helicopter pilot from southwestern was going to do,’’ he said.
Upon takeoff, the aircraft’s canopy flew back, causing Sir Tim to lose his cap and headset as he took to the skies.
‘‘He soared and he sailed around that airfield blissfully unaware of the chaos ensuing on the ground as air traffic control in Whenuapai and Auckland were trying to no avail to reach him,’’ said Jonathan.
‘‘When he did finally decide to come back down to earth, his grin was ear to ear.
‘‘That was fantastic,’’ he said, ‘‘but I can’t hear a bloody thing.’’