A CROP-DUSTER, who played rugby league for Albury and was a well-regarded boxer, has died in a plane crash in Far North Queensland.
Owen Bourke was killed when his plane crashed into powerlines and then burst into flames in a sugarcane field at Ayr, south of Townsville, on Saturday.
News of his death stunned mates on the Border who had remained in touch since he moved north in the 1970s and settled at Ayr where he continued his cropdusting business.
Albury friend Trevor Bohr said he had recently visited Mr Bourke who took him on a flight.
“He took me 80km up and down the coast, we went out over the crops and we went under lines and up,” Mr Bohr said.
Wodonga friend Max Watson said Mr Bourke, 67, played league for the Albury Roos in Group 13 and had fought for a Riverina light heavyweight boxing title.
“He was a very good knock-about bloke; he was a happy-go-lucky bloke, everyone liked him,” Mr Watson said.
Mr Bourke, who married fellow Albury resident Jan, also become involved in rugby league at Ayr.
The crash happened on dusk at 5.45pm on Saturday, with local resident James Guild describing the aftermath.
“We knew he (Mr Bourke) was doing four runs and we thought he’d finished the final run,” he said.
“When we got home we looked down the headland and saw the fire in the cane paddock.”
Mr Guild said that by the time they got back to the field where the plane had gone down the crop-duster had been well alight.
“We called emergency and went in but there was nothing to be done,” he said.
Henry Peterson who worked for Mr Bourke, said crop-dusting was a high-risk business.
“He’s had a few crashes over the years but crop-dusting planes are like that; they carry a lot of weight and they need to clear powerlines,’’ he said.
“It’s the same as a racing car driver; it’s a dangerous industry and if you do it enough times you will eventually have a spill.”
Mr and Mrs Bourke’s daughter Simone died in 2002 at age 29 while living in Tokyo.
She was in intensive care for two weeks after falling down stairs in a subway station.
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