By AINSLEY THOMSON


A station cook on a remote hill-country property southeast of Turangi received a surprise when she looked out her window and saw broadcaster Paul Holmes standing there.

Holmes had been forced to land his vintage biplane after he could not find a way through thick cloud and was running low on fuel.

The cook, who did not wish to be named, said she could not believe her eyes.

"He was a bit shaken up. I gave him a hot cup of coffee and he had a couple of smokes.

"He said he had lost his way. He didn't quite know where he was."

The veteran broadcaster had taken off from Taupo on Wednesday in perfect weather, but by the time he reached the ranges between Taihape and Hawkes Bay the cloud had settled down over the valleys.

Yesterday, Holmes, who has held his pilot's licence since 1993, told the Herald from Hawkes Bay that he had flown down the ranges looking for a way through the clouds.

In doing so he flew further south than he had intended.

"I wasn't lost in the sense of having no idea where I was. I could see the base of Ruapehu and I knew where I had to go and where Taupo was. And I've got a compass."

At first he turned his Boeing Stearman biplane around and headed back towards Taupo, but then realised he did not have enough fuel.

"It can get lonely up there and I made a decision."

That decision was to make a "precautionary landing".

He spotted the rolling hills of Ngamatea Station and decided they would offer his best chance of a makeshift landing strip.

After circling over the station, he found the most suitable paddock and figured if he dropped the plane down slowly he would be able to sneak it in.

"I got her down, but the paddock was a bit short and a deer fence came up to meet the side of the wing."

The plane, valued at more than $200,000, had its left wing broken off and also suffered damage to the right wing, tail and propeller.

A farm worker told the Herald if the plane had travelled a further 10m it would have ended up in a dam.

Holmes said he climbed out of the aircraft, shaken but unhurt.

A young tractor driver came running over, looking pale.

"He said to me, 'Oh jeez, I thought I was looking for a body'. Then he said, 'You're Paul Holmes'."

The tractor driver took Holmes to the farmhouse to recover.

The cook then stepped in with the coffee and cigarettes. She took some photos to remember the day Holmes dropped by.

"He wanted to buy the film, but I said 'no'. He asked me to keep quiet about it [the landing]."

Holmes said he was not trying to gag the woman, but was hoping no one would find out.

"I can be forgiven. I knew exactly the storm that would break."

Holmes informed the CAA about the landing the next morning.

An authority spokesman said Holmes had reported the incident within the required time. He would have to fill out a written report, which would be examined by the CAA to see if any safety lessons could be learned.

Holmes said the decision to land was exactly what he had been trained to do.

The aircraft was built in 1940 and rebuilt in 1989. Holmes bought it about five years ago.

It is not the first time he has been involved in an air incident. In 1989, he was a passenger in a helicopter that crashed into the sea near Gisborne, killing a fellow passenger, cameraman Jo Von Dinklage.

And in 2000, the Civil Aviation Authority sent Holmes a letter of warning after he was said to have flown low over the Warbirds' clubrooms at Ardmore.