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Special Investigators

Ep3 - Homebuilt Plane

Clear blue skies made it a perfect flying day when Lindsay Dunlop decided to take his recently completed homebuilt plane on a testflight. It was the Christmas Holidays 2002, and his 18-year-old grandson Alan leapt at the chance to go along on the short flight out of Tauranga airport.

But only minutes after takeoff, onlookers were watching in horror as the plane plunged in a steep dive straight into Tauranga Harbour, instantly killing both on board.

Tom McCready of the Civil Aviation Authority is called in to find what could have caused the catastrophe and we closely follow each twist and turn of his investigation, as he asks is this a tragic case of human error? Or could it be a mechanical failure of the recently completed plane?

Vivid testimony emerges of events surrounding the crash, as we are allowed full access to Tom's meeting with eyewitnesses the Ross Family.  We are soon out on the harbour being shown the spot where the family's fishing trip was dramatically interrupted - the plane plummeted into the sea only 80 metres from their boat. Daughter Stephanie relates how she leapt into the sea to help, and found herself recovering 2 bodies.

The witnesses' clear account of the plane's strange behaviour immediately before the crash proves to be crucial to Tom's investigation. They thought it was attempting acrobatics, and this important detail sets him on a line of enquiry that will ultimately uncover an inbuilt design flaw in the plane, and reveal a shocking series of unreported incidents in New Zealand airspace.

Lindsay Dunlop spent 20 years painstakingly building his plane, it only took a moment to destroy it. But was Lindsay to blame, or was he a victim of the mistakes of others?  Lindsay's grieving family have their own questions to put to Tom, and they want answers.

This major investigation puts the safety culture of homebuilt airplanes under scrutiny, and raises questions about the stringency of the certification process that may have serious implications for the safety of our skies.