Thursday, March 21, 2013

Piper PA-30 Twin Comanche, ZK-DOK: Taieri Aerodrome (NZTI) , Mosgiel, Otago, New Zealand

There was a look of horror as Hamilton pilot Richard Small watched his 1969 Piper Twin Comanche touch down at Taieri Aerodrome and crash off the end of the runway yesterday. 

Just moments earlier, he commented how dirty his $200,000 plane looked, and how strange it felt to be watching it rather than flying it as it did a high-speed fly-past over the airfield about noon. 

Slideshow: Light plane runway excursion at Taieri  

As the plane made its final approach, and glided metres above the runway, concern began to creep in. 

''Gee, he's leaving that late,'' he said. 

''He's going fast. He should go around again.'' 

When the plane touched down more than halfway down the runway, pilots standing around him started asking each other if they thought the pilot was going to pull up, go around again - or if he was going to stop in time. 

Then Mr Small was advised by a fellow pilot: ''Don't look, don't look,'' as the plane ploughed through a fence at the end of the runway and came to a halt. 

Fortunately, the two men and the woman on board were able to walk away without injury - not even a bruise. 

And as organizers started to run towards the crash site, pilots began offering Mr Small their commiserations over the damage to his plane. 

While he was concerned about his aeroplane, he was more concerned at the time for those on board. 

''It's just a piece of machinery. 

''At least they got to walk away.'' 

The plane was one of more than 30 taking part in the Flying New Zealand Air Safari, of which Mr Small is one of the organizers - hence the reason he was not flying the plane. 

The participants were flying in from Wanaka, and stopping at Taieri Aerodrome to refuel and have lunch, before continuing to Timaru. 

He had hired out his plane to the young trio so they could take part in the safari. 

After emergency services left the scene, he credited the pilot for his good decision-making skills. 

''These kinds of crashes happen. I've seen four or five go through fences at the end of runways.
''Once he [the pilot] got that far into it, he was committed. 

''He made the right decision to take the fence out because if he had tried to boot the aeroplane and go around again, it could have been a lot worse.'' 

The damage to the plane was ''relatively minor'' and mainly affected the fuselage, he said. 

The plane will be grounded at Taieri until it is repaired and safety checked. Under New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority regulations, the pilot was forbidden to speak to the Otago Daily Times after the incident. 

Flying New Zealand president John Brunskill believed the pilot was experienced. He also believed the pilot did the right thing by choosing to go through the fence. 

Had he caught the fence while still in the air, it could have flipped the plane, causing serious injury to those on board, and damage to the plane, he said. 

''Taking off and landing is the most dangerous time. It's all about timing.'' 

Despite the incident, the 10-day Air Safari continued otherwise as normal to Timaru yesterday afternoon. 

Mr Small said the safari began in Masterton earlier this week, and flew to Wanaka, via Hokitika, on Wednesday. 

The plan was to do a ''figure eight'' around New Zealand. The aircraft would fly around the North Island this weekend, before finishing in Motueka on Wednesday next week.

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