Picton businessman John Corbett named as pilot killed near Braidwood

Friends have paid tribute to Picton businessman John Corbett who was killed when his plane crashed near Braidwood on Tuesday. Picture: Karleen Minney
Friends have paid tribute to Picton businessman John Corbett who was killed when his plane crashed near Braidwood on Tuesday. Picture: Karleen Minney

Picton businessman and property developer John Corbett has been identified as the pilot who died instantly when his light aircraft nose-dived into the ground near Braidwood yesterday.

Mr Corbett, 58, was attempting to land at an airstrip on a property near the Nerriga Road about 11.30am on Tuesday.

He was in radio contact with people on the ground before he circled and then the single-engine XL-2 Liberty aircraft turned nose-down.

Mr Corbett was a wealthy property developer who had flown to Moruya from Camden on Monday and was returning on Tuesday morning.

It seems he was friendly with the Braidwood property owner and was calling in on his way back.

Mr Corbett was described by friends as a very private man.

Wollondilly councillor Robert Khan was friends with Mr Corbett for more than 40 years.

Cr Khan said his mate was "very gruff but good hearted".

"John would tell you his opinion, whether you liked it or not," he said.

"We caught up every two weeks and would talk a lot. He had some good ideas for Picton.

"The Picton community will really miss him."

Mr Corbett was flying solo in a small two-seater XL-2 Liberty when it crashed. The plane was registered to J&R Corbett Pty Ltd.

Cr Khan said Mr Corbett had been a pilot for about 10 years.

"He was passionate about flying and good at it too," he said.

"John flew a lot with his son."

Wollondilly mayor Matthew Deeth passed on his condolences on behalf of councillors and council staff members.

"We were shocked and saddened to hear of John's passing," he said.

"The impact of John Corbett in the business community and town of Picton cannot be overstated.

"His presence will be greatly missed and his legacy will love on for many years to come.

"We have all been enriched by John's vision and passion for the broader community, and for the betterment of this amazing place we live in."

Long-term Tahmoor resident Annette Huskinson said she had known Mr Corbett for "quite a few years".

"I knew John's parents well through his father Keith's hardware store in Picton. They were very easy going, happy people," she said.

"I also knew John for years through residential developments. He was a very good businessman, we had a lot of business meetings together.

"He was very pleasant outside of business too."

Mrs Huskinson said Mr Corbett was a "big loss" for the Picton community.

"He had big plans for Picton, mainly for tourism," she said.

"Some of his work was incredible. He was an intelligent man."

Picton Chamber of Commerce president Kyle Chamberlain said Mr Corbett was "very publicity shy".

"He didn't need to blow his own horn," he said.

Mr Chamberlain described his deceased friend as a "visionary" who would analyse situations much faster than those around him.

"He sat in my office many times and he was always willing to help," he said.

Mr Corbett had contact with many businesses, according to Renato Moolhuyzen who owns an office supplies business in Picton.

They were often his tenants but "not many people got to know the real John Corbett", Mr Moolhuyzen said.

"He owned an enormous amount of real estate."

My Property Consultants' Trent Noonan knew Mr Corbett for close to six years.

Mr Noonan said Mr Corbett was a "role model and mentor", with the pair often speaking multiple times per day.

"John Corbett meant a lot of different things to people," he said.

"John was someone I looked up to and respected - he was an inspiration. His vision for Picton was infectious because so passionate about this place.

"I got to know John through work and business but that relationship soon grew into a friendship.

"I only knew John for a relatively short time, compared to some, but I feel like I got to know the real John, not his public persona."

Mr Noonan said Mr Corbett "always made time for me".

"We were both so passionate about local property and the place we both called home," he said.

"I would get him to share stories about family, his mum and dad, childhood and upbringing, what Picton used to be like.

"He came from humble beginnings and continued his family's legacy, it's one they would be very proud of."

Mr Noonan said his mentor "wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty" and "preferred to do things himself".

"He was always up early," he said.

"John was one of the hardest working people I know. John challenged everything and he hated the word no."

Wollondilly MP Nathaniel Smith said Mr Corbett had a significant influence on the community, both in person and behind the scenes.

"This was not just in the business world as John had a passionate interest in other aspects of life," he said.

"Mr Corbett's passing will leave a large gap in the community as his drive, energy and commitment to Picton will not be easily replaced.

"He leaves behind a legacy of achievement and community involvement that is rare in today's world."

Mr Corbett was married with a grown up son and daughter who were described by one of his friends as "beautiful".

An eye-witness to the crash, Alan Hannaford said: "He circled once, and when he circled a second time he'd gone past the bottom of the strip. We thought 'Oh that's it, he'll head off'.

"And in a heartbeat, the left wing dropped and the plane did a sort of a 90-degree spin and just drove straight into the ground."

Mr Hannaford has a landing strip on his farm, but it is not clear if the pilot was trying to land there or on a neighbouring property.

Mr Corbett was a stalwart of the business scene in Picton.

He had developed property there, including a shopping mall.

Last year, he put the shopping centre up for sale for $30 million. He was planning to build a restaurant, motel and brewery.

The left wing dropped and the plane did a sort of a 90-degree spin and just drove straight into the ground.

Property owner Alan Hannaford, who witnessed the crash

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating the cause of the crash.

Three transport safety investigators from Canberra with experience in aircraft maintenance, operations and materials failure were to be deployed to the site.

Emergency services at the scene of the plane crash in the Braidwood area, 90 kilometres to the east of Canberra. Picture: Karleen Minney

Emergency services at the scene of the plane crash in the Braidwood area, 90 kilometres to the east of Canberra. Picture: Karleen Minney

"The initial ATSB safety investigation will include examination of the accident site and the assessment of aircraft and pilot records, weather information and any available recorded data," a spokesperson from the safety bureau said.

A NSW Police spokesperson said: "A crime scene has been established and a report will be prepared for the information of the coroner."