12.45pm UPDATE

Relatives of the eight victims of Friday night's plane crash in Christchurch visited the site of the disaster yesterday afternoon.

In a deeply moving scene, about 35 immediate next-of-kin viewed the wreckage from which emergency services had only hours earlier finished removing the bodies.

A witness said that some family members wept quietly while others looked to be in shock. "It was heart-breaking."


The 12-seater twin-engine Piper Chieftain, bringing nine senior management from government agency Crop and Food Research based at Lincoln, Christchurch, home from a conference in Palmerston North, crashed in foggy weather on approach to Christchurch airport Friday night.

Two survivors were cut from the wreckage and both were in a stable condition yesterday, Christchurch Hospital said.

Police said three female and four male passengers were killed along with the pilot, 52 year old Michael Bannerman from Christchurch.

The other victims, who all worked for Crop and Food, were:

* Margaret Anne Viles, aged 53, general manager human resources;

* Alistair Guy Clough, 37, general manager market development;

* Richard Michael Finch, 41, business manager;

* Desma Sara Hogg, 42, general manager research;


* Katherine Jane Carman, 35, general manager strategy and policy;

* Andrew James Rosanowski, 37, business manager;

* Howard John Bezar 55, communications manager.

The surviving passengers are Richard Barton, 44, general manager - finance, and Tim Lindley, 55, science manager.

Mr Barton is in a serious but stable condition with leg and chest injuries.

Mr Lindley suffered a broken arm and an eye injury, but is expected to be discharged from hospital on Tuesday.

The plane, owned by Mr Bannerman's Christchurch-based Air Adventures New Zealand Ltd, disappeared from the local control tower's radar screen about 7.15pm Firday, sparking a search over a wide area north of the airport.

Inspector Derek Erasmus said yesterday that the trouble was that police had no actual location -- only a number of possibilities -- for where the Chieftain might have come down.

Because of the thick fog no aircraft could be used in the search.

The plane was eventually found more than two hours later after searching firefighters heard the cries of the survivors.

Chief Fire Officer Glenn Cockburn said the crew first thought they could hear birds calling until they got closer and realised it was people calling out.

The plane hit a farm hedge as it came down, sliding across a paddock before smashing into a row of trees. One wing and an engine were snapped from the plane.

Fire crews worked with cutting machinery to free those trapped in the tangled wreckage while paramedics stabilised the survivors.

"It was total carnage, worse than any serious motor accident I had seen," one paramedic, who did not want to be named, said.

Those on board the plane were all found either in the wreckage or within a few metres of the airplane.

A team of three Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) investigators, assisted by another from the Civil Aviation Authority, took control of the accident scene this afternoon after police completed inquiries.

The team was surveying and mapping the site, while it also hoped to speak to a survivor, TAIC's chief investigator of accidents John Mockett said.

"Air traffic and radar records have been quarantined, while arrangements are being made to secure the aircraft's maintenance history and analyse its fuel source.

"All these matters are covered in a normal investigation. The aircraft type does not carry voice or data recorders."

The cause of the crash is not likely to be known for several months although local airplane operator Tony McFarlane said Mr Bannerman was very experienced and the crashed plane had had no flying problems.

"It must purely have been a weather thing," he said.

Mr Bannerman's family and partners at Air Adventures, said last night they were "devastated" by the crash.

"Our thoughts and condolences are with the families of those who have lost loved ones, as are our wishes for a speedy recovery for the two people who have been injured," they said in a statement.

"Michael Bannerman as pilot and owner of Air Adventures has had many years of flying experience.

"He had a committed passion for aviation and was highly regarded in the industry.

"A loved family member and partner, Michael was also a skilled artist who had a great love of the New Zealand mountains."

Mr McFarlane said that Mr Bannerman had been flying for at least 25 years.

"He had a good flying record as far as I'm aware and the Chieftains are no problem to fly."

The Government yesterday paid tribute to the work of Crop and Food Research staff who died in the crash.

Acting Minister of Research, Science and Technology Michael Cullen said the deaths were a huge loss not just to families and friends, but to the country as a whole.

"To lose people in the prime of their lives in this way is always tragic, and it is doubly tragic to lose scientific leaders of this calibre," Dr Cullen said in a statement.

Crop and Food chief executive Paul Tocker could not be reached for comment.