WRATHALL, Squadron Leader Gary Alexander, AFC.
H78276; Born Auckland, 3 Jun 1938; RNZAF 4 Jan 1956 to 3 Mar 1968, Res. To 2 Sep 1973, RNZAF to 2 Jul 1980, Res. To 3 Jun 1983; Air Signaller, then Pilot.
Citation Air Force Cross (NY1980): Flt Lt Wrathall enlisted in the RNZAF in 1956 and was trained as an Air Signaller. Following re-training as a pilot in 1962, he was employed in the maritime role flying Sunderland aircraft. He transferred to the Reserve in 1968, and after a period of civil flying, re-enlisted in the Regular Air Force in 1973. Since then he has been employed mainly as a pilot with No 42 Sqn. On the evening of 16 May 1979, Flt Lt Wrathall was asked to fly an Andover to the Chatham Islands to evacuate two premature babies to Christchurch. The health of one of the babies was failing and it seemed very unlikely that she would survive, should the flight be delayed until first light on the following day. To have any chance of success it was therefore considered that the flight should be completed without delay. This meant a night landing at Hapupu airfield – a demanding airfield even during daylight hours, with its rough undulating grass runway fringed by trees; no night landing facilities; and where in cross-wind conditions, down-drafts and turbulence are encountered during final approach. On arrival at Hapupu two hours after last light, the cross-wind was 18 knots. After three circuits where he progressively flew the aircraft lower on each approach, Flt Lt Wrathall successfully landed the aircraft with the sole aid of vehicle headlights. He departed the Chathams with the babies 25 minutes later and landed at Christchurch just before midnight. Both the landing and take-off at Hapupu were flown at the limits of the aircraft’s performance. Flt Lt Wrathall completed this difficult and inherently dangerous task in a thoroughly professional manner, to save life without incident or undue risk.