Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the APNZ News Service office in Wellington.

Plane crash: Body recovered from wreckage

A Navy diver enters the water off the Kawhia coast. Photo / CAA
A Navy diver enters the water off the Kawhia coast. Photo / CAA

Police say divers off the Waikato coast have recovered a body from the crashed plane of 2degrees boss Eric Hertz.

Waikato Police operations manager Inspector John Kelly said today that Navy divers completed five dives on the site and managed to recover one body from the wreckage around midday.

"Because of the sensitivities surrounding this multi-agency operation, Police will not be able to confirm any details about this person until the body has been formally identified.

"Police are currently working on behalf of the Coroner in relation to this and the person's body was bought to shore this afternoon with the assistance of the Coastguard and will be transported to Auckland for a post-mortem examination to be carried out on Monday."

Commanding officer of the Royal New Zealand Navy Operational Dive Team (ODT), Lieutenant Commander Trevor Leslie, said the environmental conditions faced by the divers include various sized swells, strong bottom currents and significantly reduced visibility below the surface.

"These conditions, combined with diver entanglement hazards and the inherent risks associated with diving to this depth are just some of the challenges facing the ODT divers"

Just how significant the risks are became apparent today when one of the divers was injured during the recovery operation.

John Kelly said that at about 2.30pm this afternoon a Navy diver suffered an injury while working on the wreckage recovery on the ocean floor.

"The diver was recovered to the surface and has since been flown by rescue helicopter for treatment as a precautionary measure.

"On behalf of all the agencies involved we would like to express our best wishes to him, Lieutenant Commander Trevor Leslie and his Operational Dive Team and the captain and crew of the Manawanui."

Mr Kelly said this afternoon's incident underlines the risks faced by the team working below the surface and why there needs to be such an emphasis on safety despite the desire to recover the aircraft and its occupants.

Both Mr Kelly and Trevor Leslie confirmed that though challenging, the right people with the right resources were on hand to complete the operation successfully.

Police say their next priority is to get the second body before salvaging the rest of the wreckage.

The plane that crashed into the sea off the Waikato coast, killing 2degrees chief executive Eric Hertz and his wife Kathy, had broken into pieces on the seabed.

Inspector John Kelly said that an exploratory dive yesterday enabled police to get real time images of the aircraft on the ocean floor.

"These images enable us to direct the recovery operation, for instance from sonar imagery we were able to locate the aircraft but the initial dive revealed the aircraft is not intact, presenting us with a number of challenges.''

To overcome these challenges the police and Civil Aviation Authority accident investigators were relying heavily on the expertise and advice of the Royal New Zealand Navy who were on site with a dive support vessel, HMNZS Manawanui, and the ODT.

Meanwhile, boaties have been asked to stay 500m from the crash site near Gannet Island.

Incident controller, Sergeant Warren Shaw, of the Waikato Police search and rescue squad, said one of the challenges faced by the team was determining whether Mr and Mrs Hertz remained on the plane.

"To be able to do this successfully we need to be able to conduct our operation unhindered so we're asking boaties and masters of vessels to ensure they respect the 500m radius exclusion zone around the crash site off Gannet Island.''

Mr Shaw said while the recovery was going on, local iwi had placed a rahui on the area.

"This is a mark of respect for those in the water and requires people to refrain from carrying out any action in that water and is in synergy with the objectives of our operation.

The team's priority was recover Mr and Mrs Hertz "in an as dignified manner as possible'', Mr Shaw said.

The couple had been on their way to visit their daughter in Dunedin when their plane ditched at high speed last Saturday.

- APNZ

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