10 August 2011

Stewart Island Mishap

A wind downdraught is thought to have caused a plane crash just off the Stewart Island coast that resulted in the pilot and passenger swimming to safety. Two men were in a 6-seater Piper Cherokee owned by Southeast Air when it crashed in shallow water near Doughboy Bay beach, seconds after it took off from the beach at 2.37pm yesterday. Southeast Air director Bill Moffatt said he believed the engine had not failed. "It looks a bit like a downdraught just after takeoff and he (the pilot) has ended up in the water just off the beach. There's a bit of a turn off the end of the beach and we get turbulence off there and that's what we are thinking happened.'' The plane had a "smooth arrival'' when it hit the shallow water about 20m from the beach, Mr Moffatt said. The pilot, aged in his late 20s and the middle-aged passenger, who were both unhurt, climbed out of the cockpit and on to a wing before considering whether they wanted to jump into the cold water, he said. "They did eventually, they had to swim a couple of strokes and then (walk) back in.'' Later in the afternoon a helicopter dragged the aircraft from the water and up the beach to above the high tide mark, where it was understood to still be sitting this afternoon. Wind was hampering efforts to transport the plane back to the Stewart Island airstrip or Invercargill. The plane, worth about $150,000, was insured but Mr Moffatt said it was important to get it off the beach quickly to remove the salt water. Mr Moffatt said a safety system installed at Christmas meant the company knew of the crash immediately, even before the Rescue Co-ordination Centre. The system, called Spider Tracks, was used to track aircraft. When the plane hit the water the pilot hit the SOS button in the cockpit and text messages were automatically sent to company bosses, while the plane's location came up on a monitoring screen at the company office. The Rescue Co-ordination Centre phoned the Southeast Air about 10 minutes after the crash as a result of the locator beacon in the aircraft going off. Mr Moffatt said planes regularly used the Doughboy Bay beach as an airstrip. The beach surface was hard and smooth and planes could only land on it at low tide. Senior constable Dale Jenkins, of Stewart Island, who believed the aircraft was about 50m offshore when it hit the water, said the passenger had been on Stewart Island collecting ambergris – an excretion from the sperm whale that is used as a fixative for fine perfumes – before the ill-fated flight. Given the place where the plane crashed they were lucky not to be injured, Mr Jenkins said. Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Bill Sommer said the authority would investigate the crash but would not send its investigators to the site. "Our investigation is to determine the cause of the accident from physical evidence and talking to the pilot.''

Source : http://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/news/5423593/Wind-blamed-for-crash

Congratulations to the pilot on a safe landing with no injuries... South East Air was established by Raymond Hector and Bill Moffatt in 1993 using Cessna 185E ZK-JEM for beach operations to Stewart Island's west coast beaches, Codfish Island for the Department of Conservation and general New Zealand wide charter flights. South East Air Ltd bought Southern Air 1997 Ltd in April 2000, which it operates as Stewart Island Flights. The company uses two Piper Cherokee 6 aircraft, ZK-DIV and ZK-RTS...

On a lighter note the blooper award goes to the NZ Herald... their website shows a picture of a Twin Otter to illustrate the incident...

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