A pilot on his way home from visiting friends was forced to crash land his two-seater plane into the sea after it lost power soon after take-off.
Holidaymakers at the popular coastal settlement of Whananaki North, 25km northeast of Whangarei, witnessed the Zenith 701 plunge into the water metres from a boat ramp just before 3pm yesterday.
Whangarei pilot Gary Eady and his passenger, older brother Dale, managed to make their way out of the partially submerged aircraft into waist-deep water before volunteer firefighters and members of the public helped flick the plane over and pull it out of the water.
It was close to high tide when they made their unscheduled landing.
The brothers left Onerahi Airport for Whananaki North about 11am to visit friends camping at the popular holiday spot. They decided to return home after a couple of hours.
"We were climbing nicely when the engine started to run rough about 150 feet in the air and the engine suddenly lost power," Gary Eady recalled. "I was looking at the boats straight down and others in the water so I had less than 30 seconds to make a decision and I sort of did a bit of an S-turn and touched down in the water quite gently."
He built the kitset plane about 10 years ago and said he had flown to the airstrip at Whananaki North quite a few times before without incident.
"I've been flying for 30 years and this was the first time something like this has happened. I haven't got wet before. It was obviously an issue with its engine.
"Fortunately no one was hurt because the plane crashed so close to the boat ramp. You can replace an aeroplane but not a life."
Gary Eady thanked those who helped get the plane out of the water within 10 to 15 minutes of it crashing. He said the missing part of the propeller blade may be found.
The brothers will have to file a report with the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand.
A bach-owner who witnessed the crash landing said fortunately there was no children or people launching their boats when the plane came down.
"We were sitting having lunch and I saw the two guys coming out pretty quick from the upside-down plane. I ran towards the scene but stopped on the way as lots of people had gathered to help," he said.
The crash followed a similar incident at Raglan on Boxing Day when the pilot of a Piper Cherokee decided to slam into water instead of crash-landing among hundreds of beach-goers.
They were making arrangements late yesterday for a trailer to tow the plane from the grass airstrip back to Onerahi.
The plane lost a propeller blade and sustained minor structural damage in the watery crash landing.