Police in Central Hawke's Bay were last night still trying to establish how a helicopter hit three power cables across a river near Waipukurau, without crashing.
The near-tragedy happened over the Tukituki River just after 4pm on Saturday, when the helicopter hit all three 11kV cables spanning the 305 metres between its 20-metre hardwood support poles on either side of the river, between Mt Herbert and Ford roads on the eastern side of the town.
A wire strike kit on the small chopper is understood to have sliced through all three cables, which were in a triangular formation between 12m and 14m above the river.
According to Ford Rd dairy farmer Rob Malcolm, each cable was "thicker than a finger".
The helicopter landed briefly to be checked by its pilot before climbing back into the air, and disappearing to the north.
Waipukurau policeman Constable Andy Walker said authorities were advised by the pilot soon afterwards, but electricity supplier Centralines was already fielding the start of a spate of calls from some of the 287 customers whose power had been cut.
Aware of the pilot's identity but yet to speak with him last night, Mr Walker said the above-and-below formation of the cables left him wondering how a tragedy had been averted.
"He would have been extremely lucky not to have wrapped at least one [cable] around the rotor," Mr Walker said.
Mr Malcolm, who was about a third of the way into milking 240 cows when the power cut happened, said,"I'd be advising him to go out and buy a Lotto ticket."
He had seen a helicopter flying low over the river going east.
It was thought to have been heading back when the machine struck the wires. Mr Malcolm thought that the pilot could have been flying into the low sunstrike, although no one appeared to have witnessed the accident.