3 Apr 2013

Wreckage of missing plane found

6:09 am on 3 April 2013

The police have located the wreckage of a plane that plunged into the sea off the Waikato coast, killing the 2degrees chief executive, Eric Hertz, and his wife Kathy.

They were flying from Ardmore near Auckland to Timaru when they reported engine problems and disappeared off the radar off Kawhia, near Raglan, about midday on Saturday.

The police say through an underwater camera they can see the Beechcraft Baron is upside down and is embedded in the ocean floor at a depth of 56 metres.

They say they cannot see whether any bodies are on board.

The police say an aviation expert is helping them identify parts of the aircraft that can be seen and they are working with the navy on options to recover Mr and Mrs Hertz's bodies

Sergeant Warren Shaw of the Waikato Police's Search and Rescue Squad says an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) provided by the navy's Mine Countermeasures Team was used on Monday to map out an area of 1000 square metres.

"This torpedo like device, known as the Remus 100, collected data from the ocean floor which enabled us to build up a picture of what was down there and identify a large object of interest.

"This in turn enabled us to focus our attentions on a particular area of ocean and this morning at first light a multi-agency team comprising of police, Raglan Coastguard, navy personnel and a crash investigator headed back out to the scene off Gannet Rock where they deployed a Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle or ROV."

Police said earlier the plane probably broke up when it hit the water and debris on the surface could have drifted at least 15 kilometres.

Plastic and items thought to be from the plane were found during an aerial search of the coastline by the Westpac rescue helicopter and an oil slick is visible.

Commercial divers may be used

Commercial deep sea divers could be brought in to try to retrieve the couple's bodies.

The head of a Navy specialist team, Warrant Officer James Harper, says his divers can reach maximum depths of 54 metres while commercial deep-sea divers could get down to 60 metres.

New Zealand Diving and Salvage manager Dougal Fergus says diving at anything beyond 50 metres may require what's known as saturation diving with equipment costing up to $500,000 a day.

"It's not a quick process. There's a whole raft of regulations and rules and things we have to do to prove that we can go there and do it safely without endangering somebody."

Mr Fergus says only one vessel in New Zealand has that equipment and it is working off New Plymouth at the moment.

The Civil Aviation Authority says if police cannot get to the wreckage the family or insurers may have to pay to retrieve the bodies.

Interim CEO appointed

Chairman Stewart Sherriff has been appointed as interim chief executive at 2degrees.

He met with the company's management team in Auckland on Tuesday.

Mr Sheriff has worked in mobile businesses in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa and the United States.

He says the company has been talking with Mr and Mrs Hertz's families in the United States and staff have been offered support.

2degrees' director of corporate affairs Mat Bolland says Mr Hertz was a very visible leader and staff need time to come to terms with what has happened.

The company has set up a page on its website for those wanting to post tributes.