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Australian aviation pioneer dies at age 93

world Updated: Jan 13, 2009 13:08 IST

Aviation pioneer Nancy Bird-Walton, who became the first woman in Australia to operate a commercial aircraft, died on Tuesday from natural causes, her family said. She was 93.

Walton, who was named a Living National Treasure by the National Trust of Australia in 1997, died at her Sydney home on Tuesday afternoon, her granddaughter Anna Holman said.

"I most remember her as my grandmother, who was a part of my everyday life and who was exceptionally inspirational to women all over Australia," Holman said. "But most of all, she made great chocolate cakes with peppermint icing."

Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith, the first man to fly across the mid-Pacific, taught Watson how to fly in 1933, when she was just 17 years old. Two years later, she obtained a commercial pilot's license and began taking paying passengers for joyrides around the country.

She later ran an air ambulance service for remote Outback areas of New South Wales state, becoming known as the "Angel of the Outback." In 1950, she founded the Australian Women Pilots' Association, which mentors female pilots.

Last year, she attended the inaugural Australian landing of Qantas Airways' first A380 super jumbo aircraft, which was named in her honor.

"I was asked if Qantas could name this plane after me at my 90th birthday three years ago and I made it my decision to stay alive," she said at the ceremony in Sydney.

In a statement on Tuesday, Qantas Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce praised Watson for her "boundless energy, her courage and her vision for the role of women in aviation."

Walton is survived by her two children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.