Rebecca Quilliam

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

Two pilots killed in separate crashes

The scene of the North Canterbury crash
The scene of the North Canterbury crash

Two pilots have died in separate incidents involving gliders today.

One pilot died in a fiery plane crash in North Canterbury while towing a glider, while another glider pilot has been killed after his aircraft reportedly hit trees in rural South Auckland.

Shortly after 2pm, a single crewed glider launched from the Auckland Gliding Club's private airfield on Appleby Road Drury, Inspector Tony Edwards of northern police communications said.

About two hours later witnesses in the Drury Hills area noticed the glider lose control and crash into farm property in the vicinity of Waihoehoe and Drury Hills Roads.

Auckland Gliding Club spokesman David Hirst said the crash happened "within sight'' of the club, on Appleby Rd, Drury.

Emergency Services were called to the scene where paramedics confirmed the pilot had died.

Police were yet to notify the next of kin.

Both police and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) were investigating the incident.

Meanwhile, the pilot in the North Canterbury crash has been named as 55-year-old Christchurch father Martin Lowen.

The glider involved in that incident had two occupants, but was able to release itself from the plane and fly back to the airfield.

The pilot and sole occupant of the PA28236 Dakota aircraft was described as "very experienced'' by the gliding club he belonged to.

CAA spokesman Mike Richards said they had launched an inquiry into the incident, which happened near Springfield in North Canterbury just after 12pm.

The plane was owned by Drake Aviation but had been leased to the Canterbury Gliding Club.

Club instructor Warwick Bethwaite said Mr Lowen was married with children.

"He was a good part of the club and had been for a number of years.''

Everyone at the club knew each other and all the members were shocked at the incident, he said.

"Tow pilots need glider pilots and glider pilots need tow pilots and we all get on well together, we all share a passion for the sport and for aviation - it's a big close-knit family really.''

The crash happened about 2km from the airfield, he said.

"It was a normal operation, a normal club day, good weather and great for gliding.''

It was too soon to know exactly what had happened to cause the plane to crash, Mr Bethwaite said.

Witnesses told Mr Bethwaite the plane had burst into flames on impact.

The witnesses were feeling "bloody awful'' about seeing the incident.

A Transport Accident Investigation Commission investigator was at the site today taking photos of the wreckage.

Do you have photos or video from the scene? Contact the Herald here.

- APNZ

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