People at an airfield screamed in terror as a plane with 10 passengers aboard plunged through a safety rail and off the end of the runway towards them.

Eyewitnesses said a group at a skate bowl at the end of the Pauanui Airstrip stood transfixed yesterday as the plane's engines roared in reverse to slow its progress.

The Great Barrier Airlines plane wound up nose-down in a garden at the end of the airstrip about 6pm. Passengers and two pilots got off the plane unharmed even as emergency staff raced to help.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission has launched an investigation.

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It is the latest in a string of events to plague the small air carrier that runs passenger services between the Coromandel Peninsula, Great Barrier Island and Auckland.

The airline had two incidents in 2009. In July that year, passengers were horrified when an engine exploded and a propeller tore into the plane in flight. In September, a passenger plane heading for Auckland crashed shortly after take-off.

Hayley Kerr said the plane had started to take off yesterday on the Pauanui airstrip, which runs the length of the exclusive development on the east of the peninsula, but it failed to leave the ground.

Eyewitnesses said the engines roared as the female pilot fought to keep the plane under control.

Kerr said it ploughed through a wooden barrier at the end of the strip and headed for a skate bowl. "Everyone at the skate bowl was screaming just before it stopped."

The plane stopped in a garden about a metre short of a public walkway before the skate-bowl.

Bonnie Parker was in a large crowd at the weigh-in of the Big Catch Fishing Tournament when the plane careered through the barrier.

She said the person running the weigh-in watched his crowd turn and run outside to see what had happened.

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Great Barrier Airlines owner Gerrard Rea did not return calls.