Townsville Bulletin - - FRONT PAGE - AMY PRICE

A NORTH Queens­land recre­ational pi­lot has been hailed a hero af­ter re­peat­edly div­ing into sink­ing wreck­age to res­cue his five pas­sen­gers, de­spite hav­ing a bro­ken leg.

In the last of a se­ries of mirac­u­lous es­capes, one woman had to be dragged from the flooded fuse­lage by her hair as the plane plunged into sev­eral me­tres of wa­ter.

Tony Lanzi was re­turn­ing af­ter tak­ing his girl­friend Angie Vico and four friends on a whale- watch­ing joyflight to celebrate his 52nd birth­day on Sun­day when the near dis­as­ter struck. A freak gust of wind blew his Piper Cherokee 6 off the airstrip at the Lakeside Air­park near Pros­per­ine in the Whit­sun­days and into an ad­ja­cent dam.

Wit­nesses de­scribed how the plane’s pas­sen­gers bobbed to the sur­face one at a time nearly 100m from the airstrip be­fore Mr Lanzi dived down again to help the next.

“I just saw him there,” Air­park owner Gary Poole said.

“It was all chaos. Peo­ple were bob­bing to the sur­face. We were try­ing to count them out.”

Mr Lanzi has been fly­ing planes for 12 years. He is pres­i­dent of the Townsville Fly­ers and has also been a vol­un­teer marine res­cuer for al­most two decades.

Us­ing his ex­pe­ri­ence in the field, he helped his pan­icked sur­vivors to un­buckle their seat­belts af­ter the cabin quickly took on wa­ter.

“It didn’t take long for the plane to go down,” Mr Poole said. “Some peo­ple would have done a run­ner.”

The crashed plane is hauled from the dam yesterday.

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