The widow of former Goodyear blimp pilot Michael Nerandzic has celebrated his "soft side" and humour at a farewell fit for a hero in Wollongong.The modern day aviation pioneer won the respect of his industry with his trail-blazing feats high above the earth.Nobody but wife Lyndy knew a key factor in his success - a co-pilot secreted at his side for every flight.Yesterday, at his funeral, Mrs Nerandzic let mourners in on the secret."I'd like you to meet co-pilot bear ... he travelled everywhere with us," she said, producing a stuffed brown bear dressed as an aviator. "Mike gave him his own log book. He used to smuggle it on the airship so the crew wouldn't laugh at him. It was our little secret."Mike was always my hero, long before he proved it to the rest of the world," she said.Mr Nerandzic's remains were recovered from an incinerated airship in Germany on June 12 after the blimp had run into difficulty on its landing approach in Oberursel.Mr Nerandzic, 52, of Balgownie, ordered his three passengers to jump to the ground from a height of about 2m.The drop in weight as the passengers disembarked is believed to have caused the burning craft to shoot 50m into the sky with the veteran pilot still aboard. The wreck came down in an empty field.Yesterdays' service - conducted by Reverend Gordon Bradbery at Wesley Uniting Church on the Mall - included the reading of a letter from the Minister President of the German state of Hesse, Volker Bouffier."Your husband's tragic death in this terrible accident is a great shock to all of us and especially to the three passengers who survived this catastrophe," he wrote."However, the three survivors owe their lives to the courage, selflessness and responsibility of your husband."And maybe there are many more people who became not involved with this accident because of his heroic decision not to leave the zeppelin and to steer it towards an uninhabited area as long as possible. Mike Nerandzic died as a hero."The service was streamed live over the internet for the friends and colleagues Mr Nerandzic collected across the globe throughout his colourful working life, which included more than 12,300 hours in the air.
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