Australia's highest honour for civilian bravery, the Star of Courage, has been awarded to an airship pilot who lost his life while saving those of three others.
Michael Nerandzic, from Berkeley, NSW, was attempting to land the A60 Goodyear airship at an airfield at Reichelsheim in Germany in June 2011 when the blimp caught fire during descent.
The 53-year-old and three journalists with him were returning from a local music festival. It is understood the passengers smelt fuel and heard a loud whirring noise before the blimp caught fire.
Realising the airship was moments away from disaster, Mr Nerandzic made the heroic decision to put his life on the line to save the passengers.
Hovering 2m above the ground he yelled for the three passengers to jump from the gondola to safety below.
That decision reduced the ballast weight of the airship, which is believed to have caused it to shoot 50m into the air where it exploded. The burning wreckage fell to the ground and Mr Nerandzic was unable to escape.
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Witnesses said they heard loud noises coming from the air before spotting a fireball moments before it crashed into a meadow near the airfield.
"We could hear the cries of the pilot as the fire surrounded him. It was terrible," one said.
A close friend and former colleague said at the time that Mr Nerandzic was a talented pilot with a passion for flying.
He said his decision to save his passengers first summed up the type of person he was.
"He has always put other people first," the friend said.