Every year remarkable stories of survival catch the attention of the nation. Over the next five days the Herald takes a closer look at those who came back from the brink of disaster and defied the odds. Chelsea Boyle reports.

Legendary broadcaster Rod Vaughan fell from the sky after his windscreen exploded mid-flight and lived to faithfully tell the world the tale.

Vaughan, who now lives in Katikati, was flying over Waihi in March when the windscreen of his plane exploded, forcing him to make an emergency landing.

It was tradition to fly his family around when his son Richard and three grandsons were visiting from Germany.


The little two-seater Aeroprakt Foxbat was made for one-at-a-time flying, Vaughan said.

"I took each of the three little boys for a quick joy ride each."

They embarked from Thames in a small plane belonging to the Hauraki Aviation Club, of which he is a member.

But it was when he was taking his son on a cross-country jaunt over Waihi that things went horribly wrong.

"Suddenly without any warning the windscreen of the plane just blew out," Vaughan said.

"One second it was there, the next second it was gone completely.

Rod Vaughan had to crash land his aircraft after a possible drone strike in Waihi. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times, Andrew Warner.
Rod Vaughan had to crash land his aircraft after a possible drone strike in Waihi. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times, Andrew Warner.

"It was just like being in a wind tunnel.

"There was just a huge amount of air racing into the cockpit."

It blew his headset clean off as it soared away to "God knows where".

"I had no communications ... you need a headset at the best of times.

"I could not send out a distress call."

The doors on either side blew off due to the extreme force of the wind, he said.

"There was just so much drag, the plane was really struggling to remain aloft.

"My main worry was that the doors, which were actually still attached ... flapping around a bit in the slip stream ...

"And I was really worried that if one or both of those had come free that they would have, in short order, wrapped themselves around the tail plane and that would have been goodnight nurse.

"I just figured we had to get down on the ground in a hurry."

It was fairly undulating terrain but in the distance he spotted three flat paddocks where the plane could make an emergency landing.

"I just made a beeline for them."

Former TV journalist Rod Vaughan. Photo / Dean Purcell
Former TV journalist Rod Vaughan. Photo / Dean Purcell

As the aircraft touched down the nose wheel gave way and the plane flipped.

"We ended up upside down dangling in our harnesses.

"All the blood was running into my eyes and I couldn't see."

Vaughan fumbled around to undo the harness and, weary of explosions, urged his son to get out of the battered aircraft.

"It seemed to take forever," Vaughan said.

"The plane was unfortunately a write-off.

"I was thanking my lucky stars I was still standing up."

Police and ambulance rushed to the scene and Vaughan was transported to hospital, where medical staff observed in disbelief that neither he nor his son had a single broken bone.

He believed a drone was responsible for the sudden loss of the windscreen.

Vaughan said he would have never forgiven himself if he had injured or killed his son.

That was a part of the motivation that kept him focused.

Vaughan said the most important thing had been remembering to stay calm.