25 Mar 2019

Investigators on way to scene of fatal plane crash

5:08 am on 25 March 2019

A team from the Transport Accident Investigation Commission is expected to arrive at the site of a fatal plane crash in the Kaimanawa Ranges this morning.

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This Diamond DA42 twin engine plane is similar to the one that crashed in the Kaimanawa Ranges on Saturday, killing the two pilots. Photo: 123RF

Two pilots from the Ardmore Aviation Academy in Auckland were flying the Diamond DA42 twin engine plane from Palmerston North to Ardmore Airport, via Taupō when it lost contact at 9pm on Saturday, and was reported to the police as overdue.

TAIC said the aeroplane was last seen on radar about 22 nautical miles south-southeast of Taupō on Saturday evening.

The search for the pair of pilots was hampered by poor weather and the wreckage was found at 11.30am on Sunday morning in steep terrain in the area where the aeroplane was last observed.

The police later confirmed that both men had died and their bodies had been recovered.

The Ardmore Flying School's chief executive, Ian Calvert, confirmed the two people on board were employees, and experienced instructors.

He said they came through the school as students and the flight was a training flight to build hours so they could get a higher licence and rating.

Mr Calvert will release a further statement this morning.

The head of the Aviation School at Massey University, Ashok Poduval, said the aviation community was in shock from the news.

"It's not something that any of us want to hear about and our hearts and thoughts go out to the families."

He said the flight path the pair were on was a normal training route and the Diamond DA-42 was a reliable plane used a lot in training to convert students onto twin engine aircraft from a single engine.

Irene King, the former chief executive of Aviation New Zealand and now an independent aviation commentator, said the Kaimawana Ranges are treacherous terrain and can "clagg in" or get very cloudy and drizzly.

An aerial view of Kaimanawa Forest Park in the central North Island

The Kaimanawa Ranges in the central North Island. Photo: PHOTO NZ

Ms King said much of New Zealand had a similar problem, but Taupō had the added complexity of altitude, and the airport was a lot further above sea level than other airports around the country.

"When you've got low cloud and drizzle and fairly high terrain around then the workload for pilots increases," she said.

TAIC opened an investigation into the accident yesterday and three investigators from the commission are expected to arrive on site this morning.

The Civil Aviation Authority will also run an independent parallel investigation for the purpose of informing the aviation community of any safety issues that might arise from the crash, but TAIC will lead the investigation into the crash.