Coastguard, surfers and police secure the light aircraft which crashed into Raglan Harbour yesterday.
Coastguard, surfers and police secure the light aircraft which crashed into Raglan Harbour yesterday. NZH

Pilot barely misses swimmers during water crash

BEACHGOERS watched in horror as a small plane carrying three people spluttered and crashed into NZ's Raglan Harbour yesterday, narrowly avoiding hundreds of holidaymakers.

The trio in the Piper Cherokee, all believed to be from Auckland, emerged from the plane shortly after it hit the water about 100m from the shoreline near Raglan Kopua Holiday Park.

Hundreds of beachgoers were enjoying the fine weather nearby and witnesses believe the desperate pilot acted to avoid hitting swimmers.

The crashed aircraft's occupants were quickly surrounded by boaties, who took them to shore where an ambulance and the Westpac rescue helicopter were waiting.

Last night, a 26-year-old woman was in a serious but stable condition in Waikato Hospital and two men - believed to be her husband and brother - were due to be discharged.

Lane Hannah watched the drama unfold. He was driving in Raglan's township when he saw the plane coming back towards the air strip.

"I said to my wife, 'Oh geez, that plane doesn't look like it's going to hit the runway'. It looked like it was coming in on an odd angle and it was pretty low at the time."

A couple of minutes later, the sirens of emergency services were sounding and people were running towards the harbour.

When Mr Hannah, who is on holiday from Auckland, got to the beach there was "just a bit of a tail sticking out of the water".

"They are quite lucky, really, in a sense, that this hit the water as opposed to getting any closer [to the runway]. Because it is effectively parallel with a grass area where there are hundreds of people."

Mr Hannah said he saw the woman from the plane being taken to an ambulance, which then drove to an open area where she was transferred into the waiting Westpac helicopter.

Maria Puaula, who was about to start her shift at the Raglan Kopua Holiday Park, said: "People were just looking up and thinking what the ...?' and then it happened."

Ms Puaula was walking over the bridge on Raglan Harbour with some friends when she heard the plane, "but it just seemed to be puttering".

"We thought, 'That doesn't sound good', so we looked up and it was quite low."

Ms Puaula said the plane swerved to miss the township and headed left towards the harbour.

She thought the plane was going to recover but it hovered and then crashed about 100m offshore.

At least 200 people were at the beach and dozens began running towards the crash scene, she said. Boaties and "heaps of kayaking people" arrived at the stricken aircraft very quickly.

"It up-turned and started to sink slowly. As it started to sink, we saw a couple of heads pop out.

"Everything went crazy and we just waited on the shore. There seemed to be three people on the plane."

Raglan Coastguard president Wally Hawken said the plane was in relatively shallow water, which would make its retrieval easier.