Biplane missing after taking off from Auckland

By Patrice Dougan

The missing aircraft.
The missing aircraft.

A search for a missing small plane which disappeared from radar near Auckland this morning has been scaled down for the night.

The home-built aerobatic biplane dropped off radar signals shortly after an 11.25am take-off from Ardmore airfield, southeast of Auckland.

The 53-year-old male pilot from Mt Wellington was the only person on board the distinctive blue and white aircraft.

The alarm was raised by his partner who became concerned for his safety.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter was sent to scour the last known location of the plane and an Air Force P3 Orion spent this afternoon searching the Hauraki Gulf and the Firth of Thames, Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) spokesman Steve Rendle said.

However, the search had been scaled back for the night and would resume in the morning.

It is was believed the light aircraft had a potential range of around 300km in its fuel tank, which would have run out around 1.30pm, Mr Rendle said, contrary to earlier reports of a 700km range.

It was initially flying in a northeasterly direction towards Ponui Island.

Search teams have also been contacting small airfields in the area, particularly ones which may not have an air traffic control operator.

"So there are quite a number of places the plane could land. It's a pretty nimble aircraft, and we're told the guy's a good pilot so he would be able to land in a very short space," Mr Rendle said.

"Obviously we don't know the tracks, we don't have a route which he was following, which is why we've been asking for the public to report any sightings and there's been two or three of those which we are analysing."

He said it was a "positive sign" that the pilot had not activated his distress beacon, and the hope was he had been hampered in his ability to contact family because he had not been carrying his cellphone with him on the flight.

Police are also helping with the search.

Anyone who has seen the plane, or knows anything about its location, is asked to contact RCCNZ on 0508 472 269.

- APNZ

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