Cessna looks good on surface - article from the Northern Advocate 29.12.2008
By Mike Barrington
A textbook landing by pilot John Sturgess when he ditched his plane in the sea off Ruakaka Beach on Christmas Day paid off when the aircraft was hauled out of the water showing little damage yesterday.
The Cessna Centurion is now in the Ruakaka Surf Lifesaving Club compound, where its wings are to be removed so it can be taken to the Northland Aviation Ltd premises at Whangarei Airport for Civil Aviation Authority inspection later this week.
However, despite its good condition after four days under water, insurance official Graeme Polley said yesterday that salt corrosion of the plane's aluminium fuselage would be rapid and the aircraft was likely to be written off.
Engine failure forced Mr Sturgess to crash-land his plane about noon on Thursday, when he was flying north from Ardmore to visit his mother in Whangarei Hospital.
The 52-year-old Auckland businessman got out unhurt and two Ruakaka lifeguards helped him ashore as the plane sank in 4m of water.
The salvage operation was carried out by Kerikeri-based SeaNorth Ltd, which had Northland Underwater Technical Services Ltd divers attach airbags to strong points on the aircraft to lift it to the surface.
Following instructions from Retro Air engineer Bruce Caulter, of Hastings, the landing gear was manually pumped into the down position, inspection hatches and doors were opened for drainage, and lines attached for the divers' boat to tow the partly submerged plane toward shore.
The tow line was then transferred to the tail and Ruakaka contractor Dave Le Grath used a tractor to tow the aircraft out of the surf backwards to reduce damage.
About 250 litres of fuel was drained from the plane's self-sealing tanks. Mr Caulter recorded the position of instruments to pass the information on to CAA officials.
Mr Polley said early indications were that the plane's engine had failed internally.
Both he and SeaNorth boss Robert Burling attributed the Cessna's relatively intact condition to the pilot's landing skill.
"The guy did an excellent job with his belly landing," Mr Polley said