Masterton aviation community shaken by fatal mid-air collision - mayor

8:16 am on 17 June 2019

The close-knit aviation community in the Masterton area has been shaken by the fatal mid-air collision near Hood Aerodrome, mayor Lyn Patterson says.

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Hood Aerodrome. Photo: RNZ / Kate Gudsell

Two people were killed yesterday when two light planes crashed mid-air in Masterton.

The crash near the Hood Aerodrome happened low in the sky - about 300 feet up - when a training plane collided with another plane that was returning to the aerodrome after dropping four parachutists into the air. Police said both pilots probably died on impact.

Graham Pearce saw the crash from the ground and said he watched the wreckage fall from the sky.

"Both of them were spinning from one side to the other and they weren't very high and it really stirred us up to see all this debris from these planes flying to pieces coming crashing down."

Graham Pearce saw the crash, and said both planes were spinning and hit the ground at the same time, starting a fire.

Graham Pearce saw the crash, and said both planes were spinning and hit the ground at the same time. Photo: RNZ / Kate Gudsell

Mr Pearce said they hit the ground at the same time and a fire started straight away.

The body of one of the pilots was removed last night and the second will be removed today.

One of the pilots was a member of the Wairarapa Aero Club.

Ms Patterson told Morning Report there was a close knit aviation community in the region, including recreational flyers, topdressers and Life Flight air ambulance services.

She said there about 1000 landings each month at the aerodrome and collisions were rare. "The last fatality from my recall would be over 30 years ago," she said.

There is a no-fly zone until the investigation is complete.

Former military pilot and Masterton local Scott McKenzie said there were right of way rules to follow when arriving and leaving areas such as Masterton aerodrome, which doesn't have air traffic control, and collisions happened very rarely.

"It's probably happened maybe six or seven times in the last 30 years."

Mr McKenzie said it could be difficult to see other aircraft, and there were hazards such as sunstrike, so pilots made radio calls to build up a mental picture of the location of other planes and kept looking out for them in those areas.

"But at times its really difficult to see some aircraft, and out of Masterton and other areas there's aircraft that operate without any radios as well. So the rules of the airspace allow those aircraft to integrate appropriately."

Both planes in yesterday's crash would have had a radio, he said.

Technology was available to help avoid mid-air collisions by giving aircraft information about other planes' altitudes and locations, but Mr McKenzie said it was expensive, at about $12,000 to purchase and another $5000-$6000 to install.

"It would be great to have that technology reduce in price so it becomes more affordable," he said.

"With the drone and un-manned aircraft industry booming, the cost of a lot of this new technology will decrease."

The Civil Aviation Authority investigation was to begin today, Ms Patterson said.