Gyrocopter pilot has lucky escape

By Laura Mills

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Pilot John Saunders, at left holding his helmet, inspects his crashed gyrocopter on the Greymouth beach. Photo / Greymouth Star
Pilot John Saunders, at left holding his helmet, inspects his crashed gyrocopter on the Greymouth beach. Photo / Greymouth Star

A Rotorua gyrocopter pilot whose machine suddenly lost power over Greymouth and crash-landed on the beach has walked away without a scratch.

John Saunders only hurt himself as he tried to right the wreckage, ripping off a thumbnail in the process.

Flames coming out of the exhaust were quickly extinguished with the help of passersby on the beach.

Mr Saunders, who had been in Greymouth for three days, decided to fly over the beach shortly before 4pm on Monday.

After take-off from the aerodrome the machine lost power. He said he would not know what went wrong until he stripped the machine, but suspected the turbo-charger on the engine may have died.

Heading south along the runway, at 12m and 32km/h, he turned into the wind but that "didn't have the desired effect".

"There were two people walking on the beach so I was limited in my landing choice," he said.

The machine clipped the flax bushes at the end of the aerodrome and spun 180 degrees when he hit the ground, landing on the stoney beach, debris flying into the air.

"There was fire from the exhaust only," he said.

People put stones on the flames to extinguish them.

The 70kg rotorblades remained attached to the fuselage, and "the four-point seat belt did its job" he said, in explaining his escape from injury.

Mr Saunders described it as a "forced landing with limited choice due to the number of people around".

He has had three forced landings before, but this was the first time he had damage to the gyrocopter.

Mr Saunders has been flying since 1986.

An off-duty police officer using his own 4WD helped him remove the wreckage, and it is now in storage.

Mr Saunders said he planned to rebuild it once he and his wife had finished travelling.

The crash landing has not put him off flying, and he said gyrocopters were the "safest form of flying", able to travel at just 56km/h.

- Greymouth Star

- Rotorua Daily Post

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