Spitfire crash landing

By Anne-Marie Emerson

An experienced pilot has escaped harm after being forced to crash-land his replica Spitfire at Wanganui Airport.

But Richmond "Ditch" Harding told the Wanganui Chronicle he was more concerned about the well-being of his plane than his own safety as he prepared to land without wheels around 6pm on Saturday.

"It was really no great drama," he said.

Mr Harding said he had taken off from Wanganui Airport without incident but his problems began when he tried to retract the plane's wheels.

"One of them wouldn't retract - it was stuck in position."

He spent the next 25 minutes attempting by various manoeuvres to release the stuck wheel, to no avail.

It was then Mr Harding realised he was going to have to make an emergency landing.

He called his wife, who contacted the airport manager and emergency services.

"I spoke to the police, who suggested I fly to Ohakea because they have more experience in dealing with this sort of thing, but I didn't want to do that," he said.

Mr Harding retracted the unharmed wheel and prepared to land the plane on its belly.

"I wasn't terribly apprehensive about my own safety - I was annoyed that the plane was going to be damaged."

He landed safely to find the fire service, police and ambulance, as well as concerned family members, waiting for him.

"It was quite a reception party," he said.

The plane had a broken propeller, a bent oil cooler intake and some damage to the undercarriage, but Mr Harding was sure it would be flying soon.

He said the incident had in no way put him off flying. "I've been flying for a few years now - I've been top-dressing since 1957, and I'm not ready to stop yet."

The plane is a 4-year-old kitset replica of a Spitfire, around 90 per cent of the size of the original World War II warbird.

Wanganui Airport acting manager Allan MacGibbon could not be reached for comment.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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