New focus in search for missing aircraft

Published: Sun 10 Apr 2011 01:58 PM
New focus in search for missing aircraft
Rescuers are focusing on two new areas in the search for a microlight and its 86-year-old pilot, missing since yesterday morning on a flight from Auckland to 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. Four helicopters have today been searching a large area between the North Shore and Ashburton, without sign of Mr Smale.
RCCNZ Search and Rescue Officer Neville Blakemore said new radar tracking information provided by Airways Corporation showing an aircraft leaving from Auckland at about the same time as Mr Smale, then disappearing from radar about an hour later just South of Taharoa in the Waikato, was now being followed up.
The information was roughly consistent with the estimated timing, speed and possible route of Mr Smale’s aircraft. A helicopter from the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust based in New Plymouth had been tasked and would carry out a thorough search of the area, Mr Blakemore said.
Meanwhile, a fixed wing aircraft from the Phillips Rescue Trust in Hamilton will also fly along a path between Auckland , Stratford and D’Urville Island in the Marlborough Sounds, after additional radar data provided by Airways showed an aircraft disappearing from radar about 1pm near D’Urville. This was also roughly consistent with the estimated timing and possible route of Mr Smale’s aircraft.
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.
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.

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