Pilots survive testing crash landing

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:00 01/07/2013
Nelson plane

SAFELY DOWN: Checking out the damage to the plane after it crashed at Lake Station.

Nelson plane
DAMAGED: The plane's undercarriage was destroyed in the crash.

L-39C Albatross fly-by

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An event designed to test pilots' skills provided the ultimate test for Peter Willis and Ken Millward when they walked away from a controlled crash at Lake Station airstrip.

The pair were left "astonished" but unharmed after their light aircraft crashed while climbing out of a flyover during a game of "aero golf" at the Nelson Aero Club's annual "Brass Monkey Fly-in" at St Arnaud on Saturday.

Mr Willis, a student pilot, and Mr Millward, the pilot instructor, had reached about 750 feet (228 metres) and were turning to join the circuit (the route all aircraft were required to follow) when the engine on the Coyote II microlight completely failed.

Mr Millward took control of the aircraft and turned it back to the airstrip, but noticed another light plane had taken off. Faced with crossing its path and a fence at the end of the airstrip, he chose to land the aircraft in the best available space, but a crosswind contributed to the challenge and the plane crashed.

"I was pretty hosed off when it happened. I had room to come around but noticed another plane had taken off. I was also worried about taking out the farmer's fence.

"I was trying to manoeuvre the plane in a strong crosswind, we stalled, and ran out of options," Mr Millward said.

The impact destroyed the plane's undercarriage and twisted its fuselage.

"We're both astonished, but we just have to deal with it," said Mr Millward who issued two mayday calls as events unfolded.

He said the engine "ran rough" for a few seconds before it stopped.

Witnesses saw the plane "bounce" heavily after it hit the ground, then bury its nose as the undercarriage broke.

Aero club members hailed Mr Millward's efforts to prevent a worse outcome.

He was one of several in a syndicate who owned the aircraft, and has been flying for 14 years.

The club's vice-president Kevin Allport said today the aircraft was now in Christchurch where engineers were investigating probable causes of the engine failure.

About 25 light aircraft from around the country gathered at Lake Station for the aero club's annual fly-in. It is the 24th year the event has been held, Mr Allport said.

"It started as a joke 24 years ago when we came here by car, and thought ‘let's have a fly-in'. It's built from there each year."

Aerial golf, flour bombing, spot landing and streamer cutting were traditional events, although the schedule was shortened after Saturday's crash.

Nelson Aero Club president Graeme Kinzett said one event which involved the pilot throwing a plastic drink bottle from the plane as it passed over at 300ft (91m) was all about testing pilot accuracy with speed and height.

The club uses the airstrip at the McConochie's Lake Station farm, which is also the base of the Nelson Lakes Gliding Club.

Among the keen flyers ready to tackle events and cold conditions were student pilots Emily Hamer, 16, and Shannon Surridge, 17, who arrived in a Piper Cub, a workhorse glider tow plane which Mr Surridge described as similar to driving a Bedford truck.

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The teenagers are aiming for a career in aviation. Ms Hamer, a year 12 student at Nelson College for Girls, had 15 hours' flying time and had chosen maths and science subjects at school on her mission to become a commercial pilot.

Mr Surridge flew solo at 16 and got his private pilot's licence as soon as he turned 17 last February. He plans to get his commercial licence the day he turns 18 next year.

Mr Allport said the fly-in was all about community spirit. The most planes they had hosted was 42 when 120 people turned up and the least was seven aircraft.

Saturday's events ended with a low-level pass at about 200 knots (370kmh) by what was believed to be the Nelson-based L-39C Albatros jet, but the owner Alan Caudwell refused to confirm when approached by the Nelson Mail today, saying it was a "complete mystery".

- The Nelson Mail

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