Air NZ
There were cracks around the cockpit windows of an Air New Zealand plane, the airline found on March 18, resulting in the grounding of 11 planes on the same day. REUTERS

An aircraft engineer in New Zealand has died in a horrific accident after he was sucked into the engine of a turbo-prop airplane at Woodbourne Airbase near Blenheim.

51-year-old Miles Hunter of Renwick worked for Safe Air, which runs a maintenance service for the military at the site and is a subsidiary of Air New Zealand. Around 450 contractors work at the maintenance facility.

Rob Fyfe, chief executive of Air New Zealand, flew to the scene after being briefed about the disaster.

Fyfe said everyone was at a "complete loss" as to what went wrong.

"It was a very routine procedure with very experienced people involved," he told ONE News.

"This will be felt deeply across the people, not just at the base, but the whole community," he added.

The incident happened around 8 a.m. Monday local time. An Air New Zealand spokeman said Hunter was performing routine maintenance on a Lockheed C-130 Hercules engine. There was no propeller on the engine at the time and it was not attached to a plane.

Colleagues reportedly called emergency services, which battled unsuccessfully to revive Hunter.

A former Safe Air employee told the Marlborough Express the company tested Hercules engines on a frame in a remote corner of the airport once they had been serviced.

It is believed that Hunter may have entered the testing enclosure while the engine was running.

Police and the Department of Labor are investigating the death.

While rare, the incident is not the first. In 1991, a U.S. Navy sailor survived after being sucked into a jet engine on an aircraft carrier.

Unfortunately, Monday's incident proved fatal.