It was billed as the largest search in Australian history.
But in 1954, Max Hazelton left the nation gobsmacked by surviving the crash of his tiny Auster Aiglet before trekking 100km through the bush for six agonising days.
On Easter Sunday, however, one of the industry’s last true mavericks died aged 95 in Orange, NSW.
Max’s thirst for adventure and ruffling feathers would see him set flying endurance records, fight bushfires with his planes and even successfully lobby for changes that would revolutionise regional aviation.
Yet perhaps his greatest legacy is that his own airline, Hazelton, would go on to become one of the founder carriers that became Rex.
On Monday, the airline’s executive chairman, Lim Kim Hai, called Max a “remarkable trailblazer” who left an “indelible mark” on the whole sector, while deputy chairman John Sharp added that Australia had lost a “national treasure”.
He remained close to the airline as an ambassador until the day he died.
“From humble beginnings in a paddock at Toogong, near Orange, Max planted the seeds of his aviation dream as a crop duster pilot, pioneering the spraying of cotton crops at night to avoid the winds that made daytime flying near impossible,” said Rex in tribute.
“His exploits in rural aviation led to the development of Hazelton Airlines, which grew to become a major regional operator employing 270 people and carrying 400,000 passengers a year to 23 remote and regional centres.
“Along the way, his leadership and effective lobbying of the then Department of Civil Aviation led to a raft of regulatory changes which helped fast track the development of both agricultural and regional aviation.
“While his ongoing battles with the bureaucracy were making headlines, it was his 1954 real-life struggle for survival after crashing his four-seater Auster Aiglet in bad weather near Oberon, NSW, which thrust him into the spotlight.
“Lost and alone, Max walked 100kms through rugged terrain before eventually emerging from the bush six days later, much to the astonishment of a captivated nation.
“Max set flying endurance records, locked horns with Bob Hawke and the ACTU by defying a union ban to fly live merino sheep out of Australia, flew medical mercy flights, fought bushfires in his planes and campaigned vigorously for Sydney Airport’s third runway.
“Along the way, he brought safe, affordable and reliable air services to regional areas.
“In light of his contribution to aviation, he was awarded an OBE in 1980 and in 1991 an AM.
“Hazelton Airlines, along with Kendell Airlines, was eventually absorbed by Ansett not long before the carrier collapsed in 2001 with Rex emerging from the wreckage the following year.”
Sharp added that Max was a quiet, humble man who would be remembered for his passion for both aviation and his family.
“Max’s heart was always in the country, which is why this sentiment is emblazoned on our aircraft and remains the ethos on which this company has been built. Today, though, Rex’s heart aches more than a little at the loss of someone very special who meant so much to so many.”
Australian Aviation extends its deepest sympathy to Max’s wife, Laurel, their children, Toby, Carolyn (deceased), and his grandchildren.