Tributes are flowing in for actor Matthew Leonard, who was amongst nine Australians killed in a plane crash in Papua New Guinea on Tuesday.
The 28-year-old, a graduate of the Western Australian Academy Of Arts, was not a regular on stage, with his passion for adventure leading him to a career as a firefighter.
But Leonard did have several key theatre achievements – including understudying the role of Lt Cable in the professional Australian production ofSouth Pacific in 2004.
He was amongst the first to be involved in the Australian musical The Hatpin via a workshop in 2005, and worked with both Yellow Glass Theatre and Brainstorm Productions.
The Australians killed in the crash were travelling to Kokoda as part of a tour organised by No Roads Expeditions. The plane went missing on Tuesday and the wreckage was found on Wednesday, with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd confirming there were no survivors.
Reports suggest that the plane aborted a landing due to poor weather conditions and crashed as it circled for a second approach. Officials say due to the difficult terrain it will be a huge challenge to recover the bodies – an effort that is expected to begin today.
Tragically, Leonard’s last post on his Facebook site reads: “Matt Leonard leaves tomorrow: Brisbane, Papua New Guinea, KOKODA”.
It is understood Leonard had been to Kokoda before and was on the trip as a tour guide.
Prime Minister Rudd said his thoughts were with the families of those killed.
“There is a horrible tragedy involved when families send off their loved ones for what they expect to be the experience of a lifetime, only for it to turn it into tragedy like this,” he said.
Leonard’s agent during his acting career, Les Solomon, said his death was devastating.
Solomon said that while Leonard always wanted to follow his acting career, a passion for adventure took him away.
“Acting just was not offering him enough rewards,” Solomon said.
“His love for the outdoors and being in control of his career took over and I was not surprised when he decided he wanted to pursue the life of a fireman.
“He died doing something he loved. My heart goes out to his family and friends. He will be so sadly missed, and he will always be like Lt Cable, younger than Springtime.”
No Roads Expeditions’ Managing Director, Peter Miller, said this was a very difficult time for everyone involved, and the company’s focus was on supporting the family and friends who have been affected, as well as their employees.
“In conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs, we are doing everything we can to support the families of those Australians who were on board the flight, and the family of our expedition guide,” Mr Miller said.
“This is an incredibly difficult time for those affected by this situation and for us. Our guides are like an extended family, and our groups become friends as they travel together, so this has deeply affected us and our travelling community.”
Leonard was well-liked within the theatre community, and still maintained strong connections with members of the industry.