Whangaroa locals banded together to lift a stricken helicopter so its pilot and passenger could be freed after it crashed on its side at the tiny Northland village.
More than a dozen people raced from the Whangaroa Sportfishing Club when the Robinson helicopter tipped and crashed to earth during take-off about 3.30pm.
Twisted rotors had gouged earth out of the seaside reserve when it hit the ground, falling a handful of metres before the impact which tipped it onto its side.
A witness told the Herald those who ran to help gathered around the helicopter - its engines now still - and heaved it back onto its skids.
Once upright, the passenger and pilot were able to be freed before being led to a nearby picnic table where they were checked for injuries.
An older passenger had a sore back. The pilot had what appeared to be a bandage bound around one hand.
Among those who saw the crash was a gathering of Vietnam veterans, one of whom - a former Navy serviceman who wanted to be known only as Charlie - had watched the helicopter lift off in what he considered an unconventional manner.
With 21 years of service, Charlie said he had watched helicopters landing and leaving ships for years. He watched the helicopter make a long turn to face across the harbour and into the wind. The faster route - and safer in his view - was the short turn which would have involved a 90-degree turn.
“He tried to spin it around and I thought, ‘This is a problem’. It was a show-off manoeuvre. He came down arse-end first.”
Charlie said the conditions had been mild since the helicopter first landed about 12.15pm. Those aboard had lunch at the sportfishing club under clear blue skies.
“There was very little wind ... then all of a sudden it did come up.”
Whangaroa resident George Lovegrove, 87, was among locals at the village’s fishing club enjoying an afternoon drink in the sun when the helicopter wound up for take off.
“He was doing the take-off thing and it looked like he kicked the rudder too hard.
“He had it off the ground - and it’s all over after that. It just went out of control.
“Next thing you know the tips of the rotor hit the ground.”
Lovegrove said it was not unusual for helicopters to land on the grassy reserve next to the club.
A man believed to be the pilot was approached by the Herald for comment and said he did not wish to speak.
A Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson said the agency is investigating.
“The Civil Aviation Authority has been notified of an accident in Whangaroa today, 17 September 2023, in which a helicopter rolled onto its side during take-off.
“There were two people on board, one person has been taken to hospital. Police are in attendance.
“The Transport Accident Investigation Commission will be notified as per usual procedure.
“In the coming days, our investigators will work to understand what happened and why it happened. It is too early to comment on whether any further action will be taken.”
Police they were called about 3.20pm to the accident site on a grass area near the Big Gamefish Club at Whangaroa.
“The two people on board were able to get out of the aircraft. They were uninjured. However, the helicopter rotors were bent. CAA are now investigating the incident.”
A woman has posted a photo on social media of the helicopter said four police cars, an ambulance and a Fire and Emergency vehicle all responded.
St John said one ambulance assessed and treated two patients, with one in a moderate condition transported to Bay of Islands hospital and one in a minor condition treated at the scene.