New Zealand skydiving plane crashes; 9 die |

New Zealand skydiving plane crashes; 9 die

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – Nine people have died after a light aircraft belonging to a skydiving company burst into flames and crashed Saturday near a popular tourist spot in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, police said.

The plane caught fire after takeoff from an airstrip at Fox Glacier on the country’s South Island, said Ian Henderson, a spokesman for local ambulance services. The pilot and eight passengers were killed, Greymouth Police Senior Sgt. Allyson Ealam said.

Foreign tourists and New Zealanders were among the dead, but their ages, sex and nationality could not immediately be released, police said. Next of kin were being contacted.

The crash happened in the early afternoon New Zealand time.

New Zealand’s website said there is only one skydiving company operating out of the Fox Glacier airstrip, Skydive New Zealand, but a company spokeswoman reached by telephone refused to comment. An answering machine message at the company said skydiving had ceased for the day.

Police said the aircraft was a Fletcher fixed-wing plane of a type designed and built in New Zealand. The planes are popularly used for scenic flights and skydiving in the area around New Zealand’s Southern Alps.

Fox Glacier is on the western coast of the South Island, about 90 miles (150 kilometers) from the main city, Christchurch, which was hit early Saturday by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake that damaged buildings and injured at least two people.