Police were this morning expecting to recover the bodies of three people killed when a Piper Seneca charter plane crashed into Mt Tauhara near Taupo.
The twin-engined plane from Auckland-based Christian Aviation had been on its way from Kerikeri to Taupo when it crashed in low cloud yesterday, killing the pilot and two Australian passengers.
The plane had been on its approach to Taupo Airport when it crashed about two-thirds of the way up the mountain.
Police have not yet released the names of those killed but the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has reported the passengers were former chairman of the Adelaide 36ers basketball side Bernie Lewis and his wife Christine.
Mr Lewis' son told ABC he had warned his father about flying in bad weather.
"I said to him 'if you're getting on a little aeroplane and the weather's not good don't do it for God sakes', but he did it anyway. He trusted the pilot."
Mr Lewis was also a prominent businessman and operated Bernie Lewis Home Loans.
The wreckage of the plane was found just after 1pm.
Emergency medical staff were winched into the crash site, 3kms northeast of Taupo, but found no survivors.
The Lion Foundation Rescue Helicopter flew the team out before returning with a police search and rescue crew and staff from the Taupo Fire Service.
The Rescue Co-ordination Centre was alerted to the crash when it received a distress beacon signal at 12.28pm.
Last night police were removing the bodies of the pilot and his two passengers from the plane and notifying next of kin.
An air accident investigator was to begin his scene examinations this morning.
Although police would not speculate on the cause of the crash, they said there was heavy, low-lying cloud in the area at the time.
The area where the plane came down was thick with scrub and the terrain steep, making it very difficult to recover the bodies.
Yesterday afternoon there was an anxious wait for Rotorua district councillor Russell Judd as he tried to contact his brother, a pilot for the company which owns the crashed aircraft.
Cr Judd said his brother was not piloting the plane, but was a close colleague of the man who was.
"This is very tragic ... very unfortunate," he said.
Yesterday's disaster was the latest in a spate of aircraft crashes in the Taupo area.
Meanwhile, 33-year-old Whakatane pilot Chris Scott was one of two people killed in a Cessna plane crash in Queenstown at the weekend.
- additional reporting NZPA