Two men have survived what appears to be a forced landing in Manawatu's Ruahine Ranges while on a training flight from Hawke's Bay.
Both are injured, and have been winched to safety by rescue helicopter. They are in a serious but stable condition in Palmerston North Hospital.
The 18-year-old trainee pilot has sustained chest and leg injuries, while the instructor has head and leg injuries.
Chris Wilson of the Rescue Coordination Centre told Checkpoint the plane's pilot had done a very good job in getting the plane down in such steep country.
She says air traffic control had a good idea of the plane's last location before the flight was reported overdue on Monday afternoon.
The helicopter sent from Palmerston North homed in on the emergency beacon the aircraft was transmitting and its crew then spotted the plane's wreckage.
Survival unbelievable - helicopter pilot
The helicopter rescue crew had seen one person waving, but it wasn't until they reached the crash site half an hour after landing that they knew both those on board were alive.
Helicopter pilot Fergus MacLachlan says the Piper Tomahawk is reasonably intact, and belly down in the correct position.
He says the fact anyone was alive is almost beyond belief.
"Those pilots were very, very lucky - the plane was actually wedged between two trees, nose into the side of a hill, and there was avgas pouring out all over the wing."
Mr MacLachlan says it is amazing that nothing caught fire during the time it took to access the men and winch them out.
The Civil Aviation Authority has launched an investigation into the crash.