Mystery over flare deployment

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Flares which sparked a water and air search for a possible plane crash yesterday, appear to have been set off on land, say police.

Oamaru police are investigating after receiving several reports of red flares being released at about 3.15pm yesterday.

Highway Patrol Sergeant Peter Muldrew said a water and air search began shortly after the first reports came in.

Police then received a report of a light plane crashing off the coast from Oamaru by a member of the public and immediately instigated a search of the area off the Oamaru coast. This involved two helicopters and numerous vessels.

“We got as many resources going to try and address any issues,” he said.

Central South Island Helicopters, with police observers and St John staff on board, were deployed.

“We picked up a diver at Takaro Park and were joined by Air 2 from Dunedin,” he said.

Until 5pm, rescue personnel continued a grid search of the Oamaru coast, but nothing was found in area to indicate a crash had occurred. Checks established there were no reports of a missing aircraft.

As events evolved, Mr Muldrew said it appeared that the flares may have been activated on land, in the Oamaru Creek, harbour or Eden St area.

“Whether someone has come across an old flare and thought they would get rid of it…” Mr Muldrew said. While it appeared it had been set off on land, Mr Muldrew said emergency services could not run the risk of not investigating.

Helicopters were stood down at about 5pm.

North Otago Aero Club’s new flying instructor Leon Hunter said all the planes at the Oamaru Airfield, including those owned by locals and the North Otago Aero Club, were “safely on the ground still”.

He did not know if a light plane from elsewhere in the country had come to Oamaru prior to the reported crash.

When the Oamaru Mail went to print, Oamaru Police were continuing their enquiries into the report.

Mr Muldrew said police would like to thank the searchers for their efforts.

Any information in relation to the flares can be reported to the Oamaru police on 03 433 1400.

By Rebecca Ryan