Gliding club members watch in horror as the plane crashes near Feilding airfield

The pilot of a Piper Pawnee plane was seriously injured when it crashed into a tree about 20m from Feilding airfield (file photo).

DAVID UNWIN/STUFF/Stuff

The pilot of a Piper Pawnee plane was seriously injured when it crashed into a tree about 20m from Feilding airfield (file photo).

Members of the Manawatū Aviation Club were horrified when two pilots encountered trouble in the sky on Saturday, with a plane crashing into a tree, leaving its pilot seriously injured.

Whanganui-Manawatū Gliding Club President Ross Anderson said the crash occurred during the club’s normal flying activities after a Piper Pawnee aircraft, towing a glider, moved under tow overhead from Feilding airfield.

The tow plate was pulled into a position where the pilot of the Piper Pawnee could not retrieve it.

Anderson said he and other club members saw the plane hit a tree about 20 yards from the airfield.

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Police were called to the airfield just after 2pm on Saturday (file photo)

DAVID UNWIN/Stuff

Police were called to the airfield just after 2pm on Saturday (file photo)

“It was heartbreaking to watch it unfold in front of all of us. We are a very tight-knit club and the two people involved have been with the club for a very long time.

“A lot of us saw what happened. It was just awful and it will take us all a little while to come back from it.

Anderson said that before the crash, the rope between the glider and the plane broke, allowing the glider pilot to return to the airstrip and land safely without injury.

“But the plane pilot is not so lucky, he is in a bad place, I would say critical, so it is devastating for everyone.

Emergency services were alerted to the crash on Taonui Road at 2:05 p.m.

Fire and Emergency NZ Central shift manager Chris Dalton said six fire trucks and two support vehicles from Palmerston North, Bunnythorpe and Feilding brigades attended the scene.

He said fire crews needed to free the pilot, who was pinned down.

A police spokesperson confirmed the pilot suffered serious injuries and was taken to hospital in the rescue helicopter.

The Civil Aviation Authority has been notified.

Taonui Rd was closed and a scene guard was in place at the crash site overnight.

Stuff has contacted MidCentral DHB for a driver status update, but has yet to receive a response.

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