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Search continuing for missing aircraft

DATE: 10 APRIL 2011 TIME: 11.30AM

Search continuing for missing aircraft

The search for a missing microlight and its 86-year-old pilot is continuing today, with four helicopters actively involved in combing an area between Auckland and Ashburton.

The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) began the search for pilot Geoff Smale after he was reported overdue by a friend in Ashburton about 5pm yesterday.

RCCNZ Search and Rescue Officer Neville Blakemore said Mr Smale, an experienced pilot, reportedly departed North Shore airfield about 11am yesterday, with an ETA in Ashburton of about 3pm. The aircraft has a 9 hour flying range and is capable of 135 knots (250kph), so was able to complete the flight without refuelling stops. The weather along the route yesterday was good overall, with a few cloudy patches.

Weather today is generally good for searching, although there is fog in Canterbury.

Mr Blakemore said Mr Smale had made the trip previously without incident.

He said information provided by Mr Smale’s family about his flight plans and other information provided through Police indicated Mr Smale had intended to fly from North Shore, passing over Wanganui, Blenheim, Christchurch and on to Ashburton.

Four helicopters, from Auckland, Palmerston North, Wellington and Christchurch were now focusing on searching those geographical areas along the flight path, he said. This included areas of coastline and land.

The missing aircraft, registration number ZK-SML, is categorised as performance microlight, but looks like a small plane. The aircraft is white with red detailing. The aircraft is understood to be about 18 months old and has been professionally maintained.

Mr Smale is carrying a personal locator beacon, radio, radar transponder and cellphone. The beacon has not been activated and attempts to contact Mr Smale through other communications channels have been unsuccessful.


ENDS



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