Nelson pilot runs out of fuel mid-flight, lands on sandbar

A Nelson man has survived every pilot's worst nightmare - running out of fuel mid-flight.

Brent Ferguson says his engine suddenly cut out, forcing him to make an emergency landing in his Cessna on a sandbar.

The 78-year-old was on a solo flight from Brightwater, southwest of Nelson, and was headed north for Motueka to meet with fellow pilots. But over the water near Jackett Island his engine suddenly stopped.

"I was quite surprised really because obviously I wouldn't take off even on a 10-minute flight if I didn't think I'd have enough fuel. But I suspected that's what it was, just the way the engine stopped dead," Ferguson says.

Finding a place to land ended up being quite difficult.

"There was nowhere to go really. I did look at the road - State Highway 6 I think - but there was just too much traffic."

Once he landed safely on the sandbar the ocean became his next problem. The tide was rolling in and it was threatening to swamp the sandbar and his plane.

But just as quickly, other pilots jumped into action.

"Grabbed some gas, threw it in the helicopter and I flew with the helicopter out to the island and dropped him off the gas," fellow pilot Ian Andrews says.

Once the Cessna was fuelled and ready to go, Ferguson took two attempts to take off.

He had to push through waves of water and over bumpy sand to get airborne.

The remarkable take-off was caught on camera by a witness. In the video they can be heard saying: "He's done it! Oh you lucky lucky man."

Ferguson and his Cessna made it to Motueka where he and Andrews took a moment to reflect on one of the riskiest takeoffs of his 50-year flying career.