Small plane missing from Auckland

MISSING: The home-built, aerobatic biplane.
MISSING: The home-built, aerobatic biplane.

The search for a small plane which left Auckland this morning has been called off for the night.

The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) is searching for a home-built, aerobatic bi-plane which took off from Ardmore airfield around 11.30am but disappeared from radar soon after.

The 53-year-old pilot from Mt Wellington was thought to be heading to Ponui Island, just south of Waiheke Island over the Tamaki Strait

Search and Rescue Mission Controller Neville Blakemore said the Westpac rescue helicopter had started the search at the last point of radar contact, while a RNZAF Orion was scouring the Firth of Thames.

Police were focused on a land-based search east of the Ardmore airfield.

Blakemore said the distinctive blue and white, open cockpit, twin winged aircraft had a potential range of around 700km with a full tank of fuel, which would have run out at around 2pm.

But that estimation has been reduced after experts looked into the specifications of the engine.

The centre now believed the plane could only have travelled until 1.30pm before exhausting its fuel supplies and the search radius was adjusted accordingly.

The plane, carrying only the pilot, was initially heading in a north-easterly direction towards Ponui Island when it disappeared from radar, shortly after take-off.

Blakemore said the man’s partner raised the alarm after concerns for his safety. 

 “No distress beacon has been activated but this is being treated as a distress situation,” Blakemore said.

“We have checked with airfields in the region and there have been no reports of the plane landing. The plane would have been flying at low level and we would like anyone who has seen it to contact us so we can establish the likely route it has taken.”

Blakemore said they had received several calls about low-flying aircrafts and would tailor the operation to ensure they covered all possibilities.

The search will continue at first light tomorrow morning.