Two Hokitika men managed to free themselves from the wreckage of their microlight before it was engulfed in flames after crashing at Hokitika Airport on Saturday.

The trike-style microlight fell from about 200 feet (61m) shortly after take-off, due to engine failure, crash landing on the grass within the airport zone near the east-west runway.

Both men - confirmed by police yesterday as Hokitika Airport manager Drew Howat and Department of Conservation staff member Tim Shaw - suffered broken bones and were flown to Christchurch Hospital.

Hokitika Volunteer Fire Brigade chief fire officer Harry Collett said they were lucky to be alive.


"Seeing the wreckage, to be honest they are extremely lucky boys. They were extremely lucky to survive that," Collett said.

"They managed to help each other crawl out of the wreck ... and drag themselves to a safe distance."

When fire crews arrived the wreckage was well ablaze.

Hokitika resident Jane Teen, who raised the alarm just before 8am, said she saw smoke shortly after watching the microlight go down while out walking towards the airport terminal.

"It looked in a very low position ... then he just went down. Then I heard the thump and saw white smoke followed by black smoke, and by then I thought, 'It's serious," Teen said.

She ran to the crew of the visiting Douglas DC3 charter plane, who were first on the scene.

"Some of their staff are ex-paramedics and they managed to run down the field and attend to them."

St John and PRIME services arrived shortly afterwards, followed by the rescue helicopters from both Greymouth and Christchurch. They flew both men to Christchurch Hospital with serious to moderate, but not life-threatening injuries.

Howat's sister and brother-in-law, Sue and Ian Hustwick, were on their way to Christchurch yesterday.

Hustwick said Howat had broken an ankle and elbow in the impact.

"He's not flash but he is fine."

It is understood Shaw suffered a hip injury.

Both men fly and own microlights at Hokitika, and police were not been able to confirm who was flying at the time.

Constable Shane Allen, of Hokitika police, said he had taken witness statements and now passed on all information to the Civil Aviation Authority, which was investigating the cause of the crash.

The CAA could not be reached for comment yesterday but the wreckage remains under a tarpaulin at the crash site.

Allen agreed that the pair had a lucky escape.

"The main thing is no one died."

The section of runway where the crash occurred is not used by domestic flights so no scheduled Air New Zealand flights were affected over the weekend.

- Hokitika Guardian