Fatal plane crash probed
Three aircraft crash investigators are today examining the incinerated wreckage of an aircraft that towed gliders that hit trees and burst into flames in rural Canterbury.
Pilot Martin Timothy Lowen, 55, was flying the Piper PA-28-236 Dakota plane, which crashed about a minute after taking off from the Canterbury Gliding Club's Springfield aerodrome at 12.05pm yesterday.
Club members, watched the crash from about 2 kilometres away and rushed to the crash site, but Lowen was already dead.
Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) spokesman Mike Richards said a lead investigator met police about 9am today before heading to the crash site with two assistants.
Because the crashed resulted in an incineration, it would require detailed work, he said.
The blaze, which was put out after firefighters arrived, completely destroyed the aircraft and charred surrounding trees.
The aim of the CAA investigation was to find out what went wrong as well as gain any safety lessons about that type of aircraft, Richards said.
Police said Lowen's body had already been removed from the scene.
The Christchurch father was the second pilot to be killed in a crash in New Zealand yesterday after an accident in the North Island.
He was on his third tow-flight of the day using the club's leased aircraft - a plane he had countless hours of experience flying.
Conditions were warm, with a mild nor'west wind.
About a minute after takeoff, something went wrong on the tow.
The glider managed to cut away before Lowen's plane turned, crashed into trees and burst into flames beside a paddock in Springfield Rd.
"It's totally devastating," club deputy chief flying instructor Warwick Bethwaite said.
"It was just a routine day. It was his third tow of the day. There was some sort of upset on the tow and the tow-plane crashed."
The glider, with two people on board, returned to the airfield safely.
Lowen was a longtime club member. He was an experienced pilot, both in gliders and tow-planes, Bethwaite said.
It was "complete conjecture" what went wrong.
The plane that crashed was one of three used to tow gliders at the aerodrome.
"[Lowen has] been in aviation 20-plus years. He's spent a lot of hours in that particular plane," Bethwaite said.
Bethwaite was in Christchurch when the crash happened, and went to the aerodrome to offer those who witnessed the crash support.
Seeing the plane go down "would have been terrible, shocking. It will upset people for a long time", he said.
Bethwaite said his thoughts were with Lowen's family.
Lowen is survived by his wife, Elisabeth, and their teenage children.
"He was part of a very close-knit club. He was a great guy. We're all going to miss him terribly."
Club president Kevin Bethwaite said there had been no problems with the plane before the crash.
Lowen's family declined to comment.
In the second fatality, police said a glider had taken off from the Auckland Gliding Club in Appleby Rd about 2pm. It crashed about 4pm on farmland in the Drury Hills area.