The death of a life-long pilot in a gliding crash has shocked members of his tight-knit club.

The experienced pilot, aged in his 70s, took off from Kaikohe aerodrome early Thursday afternoon for what was supposed to be a local flight.

Fellow club members raised the alarm when he hadn't returned by 5.30pm.

A helicopter deployed from Whangarei by the Maritime New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre located the wreckage about 7pm in rolling farmland 3km northwest of the aerodrome.

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Police on the ground confirmed the pilot was dead and placed a scene guard on the site overnight.

Yesterday a specialist police Search and Rescue team, with members from Whangarei and Kaitaia, was at the scene which was also blessed by Kaikohe kaumatua Ted Wihongi.

Debris from the glider's carbon-fibre fuselage was scattered over about 200m.

Constable Jim Adamson, of police Search and Rescue, said the scene would be mapped by a member of the Serious Crash Unit, then handed over to the Civil Aviation Authority for recovery of the aircraft and a technical investigation into the cause of the crash.

The CAA was expected to take over mid-afternoon yesterday.

Kaikohe Gliding Club secretary Keith Falla, of Omanaia, described the pilot as "friendly, outgoing and a very valued member of the club".

Although in his 70s he was "young at heart".

The pilot, who had been flying since his youth and had been a club member for at least 20 years, was the last to take off on Thursday in his own self-launching glider.

Mr Falla said he had no idea what had caused the crash.

Conditions were not ideal but would not have caused problems for an experienced pilot, with a cloud base around 1200m and wind that was fresh but not strong.

With the weather unsuitable for long-distance flights the gliders stayed within easy reach of the aerodrome.

When the pilot didn't return Mr Falla tried calling him on the radio, thinking he may have landed at Kerikeri instead. There was no response so he alerted police Search and Rescue.

The pilot, who was also a keen sailor, is from Russell in the Bay of Islands, where he is a well-known and loved local identity.

Police are yet to release the man's name.

Kaikohe Gliding Club has 14 members from Whangarei, Kaikohe, Kerikeri and Hokianga. It is based at the aerodrome on Mangakahia Rd, about 5km south of town, and has four winch-launched gliders.

Some members also own their own aircraft. The club is based at Kaikohe aerodrome because it has a long grass runway suitable for winch launching.