Pair in crashed plane confirmed dead

The two men on board a topdressing plane which crashed in Northland have been confirmed dead.

The company which owns the aircraft - Super Air Limited - said the pair probably died on impact.

The plane was found in bush 4km west of Whangarei, Maritime NZ said.

A ground search and rescue team made its way to the scene along with a helicopter with winching equipment.

The two men on the aircraft were pilot Peter Beatty and Greg Nash, a loader. They were based at Pukekohe.

Mr Beatty, the father of two girls and a boy, was an experienced pilot with about 14,000 flying hours to his credit, Super Air Limited said.

He was born in Whangarei and began flying in 1978. He owned his own top dressing business from 1984 to 1989 and had worked in the Sudan and Malaysia.

Mr Nash's details were not available.

The aircraft was believed to have crashed in steep, bushy country and the Rescue Coordination Centre spokesman Lindsay Sturt said it was very rough terrain and it was taking some time for the ground party to reach the wreckage.

The Fletcher turbo prop aircraft was last heard from by text message at 11.36am yesterday, Maritime NZ earlier said.

Just before that, Whangarei airport had been advised by the aircraft that it was 15 minutes away from landing. Weather conditions at the time had been low cloud and low visibility.

Super Air said in a statement the plane disappeared between Kaikohe and Whangarei late yesterday afternoon and not late in the morning.

Company spokesman Peter Mourits said the aircraft was returning to Whangarei after aerial top dressing south east of Kaikohe. He confirmed the last contact with the aircraft was at 11.30am.

Mr Mourits would not comment on why it took so long to raise the alarm.

He said the company operated a "buddy" system where pilots advised a nominated person of their flying intentions for the day and called their buddy at the end of the flying day.

Mr Mourits said this morning that the company was concentrating on the search for the missing aircraft and would investigate the time delay once it had been found.

In the meantime he said they were offering the relatives of the missing men support.

An aerial search commenced at first light this morning and was to follow the flight path the aircraft was likely to have taken.

Rescue Co-ordination Centre NZ mission controller Neville Blakemore said the aircraft had an emergency locator beacon on board which had not been detected by satellite.

"A private helicopter flew over the flight path the top dresser would have taken last night yet was unable to detect any signal."

Search planes took off at first light today after a delay because of low cloud.

The aerial search included the Northland rescue helicopter, three top dressing aircraft and another helicopter.

Rescue centre spokeswoman, Annie Lattey, said other aircraft were likely to join the search.

The police said they were called late last night and immediately notified the rescue centre in Wellington.

Neither the rescue centre nor the police could explain the delay in raising the alarm.

- NZPA, HERALD ONLINE STAFF, NEWSTALK ZB 

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