David Steven Askin, who went by Steve among friends, died in helicopter crash near the Sugarloaf car park in the Port Hills of New Zealand on Tuesday.  The former special forces soldier was piloting a Squirrel chopper tasked with pouring water on a wild-fire that had engulfed nearly 1500 acres of land, when his helicopter went down.  Askin died on the scene and local authorities have begun an investigation as to just what went wrong.

Askin was an experienced pilot, and although he primarily worked in agriculture, fighting fires was a passion of his.  “He loved fighting fires, it was the best part of flying, for him,” Askin’s father, Paul said to reporters on Wednesday.

Askin was awarded the New Zealand Gallantry Star in 2014 during his service with the 1st New Zealand Special Air Service Regiment in Afghanistan.  The Gallantry Star is the second highest military honor a Kiwi soldier can receive.

He was injured during a five-hour firefight with the Taliban at the InterContinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan.  According to the Defense Minister at the time of the battle, Askin and his fellow soldiers came to the rescue of Afghan police as they were being overwhelmed, and Askin lost a portion of his ear in the battle.  At the time the battle broke out, Askin and others were in the area as “mentors” for local allies, but were forced to engage the enemy as the situation escalated.  Photographs from the battle were widely distributed at the time, with one shot of Askin, helmet off and bleeding from the head as he walked away from the scene, receiving international notoriety (image above).

According to a Guardian correspondent reporting from the scene, Askin played a “major role” in bringing the Taliban siege to an end.

Askin’s father always knew there was the potential for his son to be harmed or killed during his time in the New Zealand SAS, but appreciated what he was capable of.

“I always thought if I was a hostage being held somewhere like that, I would want boys like him coming to my rescue. Somebody’s kid has got to do it,” Paul said before adding that Askin always wanted to “do something worthwhile” with his life.

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Local law enforcement, the Civil Aviation Authority, and the Transport Accident Investigation Commission are each investigating the crash in hopes of finding out what caused the Squirrel chopper to go down as Askin fought the fire.  Thus far, no information has been released regarding the incident.  His chopper was one of fifteen working to squelch the flames at the time.

The fire is now more than two kilometers away from the scene of the wreckage, allowing investigators to visit the scene in relative safety.  At least four investigators have been seen at the crash site thus far, gathering evidence and attempting to piece together clues that may shed some light on this tragedy.

Without knowing the exact circumstances of Askin’s death, his family is striving to come together as they grieve the loss of the national hero.

“We’ve got a hell of a mountain to climb, but the only way up is together,” Askin’s father said.  “The best tribute we can pay to Steve is to love his kids and his wife.”

 

Image courtesy of the AFP