Toowoomba flying community mourns loss of aviation innovator
UPDATE: Toowoomba aviation community lost one of its dearest and most innovative members this morning when Terry Kronk's P51 Mustang replica crashed near Helidon.
It was supposed to be a day of celebration.
Mr Kronk, a successful business and property developer, had just taken off from the Emu Gully airstrip when mechanical failure sent his plane back to the earth about 9.45am.
He was on his way to the 100th birthday celebrations of the Toowoomba Aerodrome, where his famous Mustang replica was supposed to be on show.
While the bulk of visitors to the aerodrome were still oblivious to the tragedy, the downcast eyes of those who had heard the news told a story of great sadness.
Darling Downs Sport Aircraft Association co-member Glenn Bruggermann was with Mr Kronk when he had just decided to build the fallen warbird.
"We had our meeting at Terry's house one day about 12 years ago," Mr Bruggermann explained.
"He took us to his shed and pointed, saying, 'See that engine and that sheet metal over there? That's going to be a Mustang one day.'"
True to his word, the built-from-scratch plane became a favourite among flying enthusiasts on the Darling Downs and further afield.
"He always said that when he went, he was going out flying," Mr Bruggermann said.
Aerotec owner Lynette Zuccoli said a string of recent aircraft tragedies had started to "numb" the community.
Mrs Zuccoli lost her own husband to a plane crash and, more recently, close friend and David Hack Classic regular Des Porter when his 1934 Dehavilland Dragon crashed south of Gympie last month.
There were tears in her eyes as she remembered this latest victim of the skies whom she had known for more than 20 years.
"He was in here just yesterday - he just called in to see how everything was going," she said.
"Terry was a genius when it came to building aircraft and he loved his work.
"He could build an aircraft just by visualising it, drawing up the plans and putting it all together.
"I believe it was a mechanical issue, so there was nothing he could do.
"He was an excellent pilot."
Mrs Zuccoli said her friend was an innovator who was looked up to as a leader in aviation circles.
"The world needs people like Terry who take risks and do things out of the ordinary," she said.
"They show us that things can be done differently."
Mr Kronk had a lifelong fascination with flying, buying his first ultra-light at age 21 for a sum of $1200 in partnership with his brother.
Once he started, he never looked back.
His scale-replica P51 Mustang, Focke Wulf 190 and Spitfire planes were renowned for the workmanship that went into their construction.
Aerotec's chief engineer Wayne Milburn saw Mr Kronk yesterday.
He was in a cheerful mood, looking forward to this morning's centenary celebrations.
"He supported nearly every event held in aviation, not just here but all over Australia," he said.
The company's chief flying instructor Matt Handley called his lost friend a "great guy".
He recalled watching in awe as Mr Kronk's brainchild, the Emu Gully Air and Land Spectacular, unfolded.
The event has become Australia's largest reenactment of Anzac war history.
"He had a great community spirit with a real enthusiasm for teaching future generations about the sacrifices our troops have made in conflicts throughout history," Mr Handley said.
"Through restoring and building military vehicles and plans, he was able to educate.
"Terry was just a nice bloke."
The only consolation for many of his friends was that Mr Kronk died doing what he loved.
"There are very few of us involved in the aviation industry that have not lost friends over the years," Mr Handley said.
"He will be missed."