Plane crashes off runway

By Kiri Gillespie, Michele McPherson

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A plane that crashed off the runway on Motiti Island on Tuesday sparked an urgent response from New Zealand's primary rescue organisation after reports it had flipped.

The pilot was travelling with another man when the plane was reported to have flipped during take-off at 2pm - sparking an initial all-hands-on-deck response from Tauranga emergency services before the Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand took over.

By 3pm, the RCC was no longer required.

The four-seater Grumman American AA-5A weighs 997kg and is registered to a Garth Alexander Shaw, of Auckland. Local pilots did not recognise the plane or its operators when they landed on the island yesterday.

The grass runway, known as The Mailbox, is one of three on the island. Motiti is located 21km north east of Tauranga.

A man at the airstrip, who did not wish to be named, said he was one of two pilots on board the plane when it crashed into long grass, scraping a wing tip along the ground and damaging the nose wheel.

"It's pretty minor. I don't really want to comment at all," he told the Bay of Plenty Times at the scene.

The man, who appeared to have been uninjured, said he "operated" out of Motiti but did not want to comment further because the matter was now in the hands of the insurance company.

It is understood the men were unsuccessful in spotting fish from the air for a local company and landed the plane to wait for more fish to show.

Motiti resident Vernon Wills owns the land the airstrip runs on. He said he did not see or hear the crash but the airway had been busy lately.

"As it is at the moment we have DOC people coming and going and Rena clean up people in and out."

Mr Wills said the men had not been given permission to land on the strip "but I'm not worried, nobody's hurt".

The wreckage remained at the end of the runway overnight, as a representative from the Civil Aviation Authority was appointed to investigate the crash.

The plane is likely to be removed by a large helicopter once an engineer has assessed the damage.

Island Air Charters pilot Paul Ensor was called to fly one of the men back to the mainland.

Mr Ensor was reluctant to talk about the incident itself but said the plane had not flipped but rather ran into some long grass at the end of the runway.

Motiti kaumatua Graham Hoete knew nothing about the crash until he received a call at home from a television journalist and jumped on his motorbike to go and investigate. Yesterday's was not the first flying mishap he had seen at The Mailbox runway.

He said new pilots had misjudged the landing and run into a fence at the end of the runway, which had since been moved further out.

"First time I've seen this one," he said. Sunair Aviation made about 200 trips to the island each year and pilot Aidan Campbell said he had not seen any incidents on the airstrips before.

"I've been coming out here for four years and it's been pretty accident-free," he said.

As word spread local residents came on motorbikes and on foot to investigate and see the crashed plane for themselves.

Ross Henderson from RCC said a rescue operation for the two men had initially been set up but this was downgraded.

"We were notified that a plane had overturned at the end of a runway," he said.

"We were in the process of sending a helicopter to check it out but we were advised that everyone was okay."

The RCC is usually notified as a matter of course in these sorts of situations, Mr Henderson said.

Information was passed on to the the Civil Aviation Authority, which appointed a safety investigator to speak with the pilot.

Spokeswoman Emma Peel said "contrary to initial reports, the aircraft did not flip over but rather scraped a wing tip along the ground and damaged the nose wheel after coming into contact with long grass on take off".

Ms Peel said the incident would be followed up in more detail in the New Year.

"The CAA will examine this detail, and ask any further questions if required. If not, the event will be recorded on the CAA database, but no further action will be taken," Ms Peel said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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