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A body has been pulled from the water after a light plane crashed into the ocean near Orewa Beach, north of Auckland.

A search and rescue operation was launched after the aircraft plunged into the water about 800m out, just before 3pm.

A number of boats were on the water at the time and participated in the search.

Two people were initially believed to be on board the red plane, thought to be a microlight aircraft.

This had been ruled out after speaking to witnesses who saw the plane leaving and contact with different people, Inspector Kerry Watson told NZPA tonight.

The pilot's name or sex will not be released until next of kin have been advised.

The wreckage of the plane has sunk and will likely be retrieved tomorrow, Mr Watson said.

Pieces of the wreckage were seen washing up on the beach.

Orewa resident Joanne Wilson called 111 after she saw the small aircraft plummet into the sea.

"I looked up and there wasn't any sound and I saw what looked like a blue and black plane - but whether it was or not I don't know - just nose-dive into the sea and crash, and when it crashed it impacted with a loud bang and it looked like it splintered apart and there was smoke rising.

"It was such a small plane, I thought maybe it was a toy plane because it was so little, but then I realised it was actually a real plane."

Ms Wilson said no one she had spoken to had heard the sound of an engine before the crash.

"I always look up when I hear the sound of an engine but this just appeared out of nowhere."

Local motel owner Daniel Emery was walking on the beach at the time.

"We didn't see it come down but suddenly we heard a mighty bang, even though the wind was going the other way. There were a number of boats fishing out there and they all converged on the scene," he said.

"It sounded like when a jetski jumps the waves and comes down again... it was just one loud bang."

- NZHERALD STAFF, NZPA