Pilots critical after NSW plane crash

Rachel Gray

A chief flying instructor and pilot - both with years of experience - are fighting for their lives in a Sydney hospital after their plane crash-landed and burst into flames at Orange airport in central western NSW.

Catherine Fitzsimons, the owner of Bathurst's WardAir flight school, and pilot Ben Wheeler, both suffered critical burns and fractures in the crash which occurred about 7pm on Tuesday.

The pair was allegedly practising night-flight manoeuvres when the four-seater single-engine Cirrus SR-22 aircraft crashed near the airport's runway.

The plane, which reportedly belonged to Mr Wheeler, was engulfed in flames with five emergency crews rushing to help the woman and man, both in their 40s.

The pair was found conscious before they were airlifted to Royal North Shore Hospital in critical condition, with Ms Fitzsimons suffering more serious injuries, NSW Ambulance spokesman Jason Speight said.

WardAir pilot Luke Patterson said staff at the small company were concerned about Ms Fitzsimons, who he described as a very experienced pilot, adding she was passionate about aviation, safety and women in the skies.

"We are all in shock and we're all just running around to do what she needs done," Mr Patterson told AAP on Wednesday.

He also thanked the staff at Toll Rescue Helicopters for rescuing Ms Fitzsimons from the burning plane.

"They are heroes," Mr Patterson said.

The injured man was also well-respected in the local aviation industry.

Local helicopter pilot Dean Brus says he has known Mr Wheeler for many years.

"He is an experienced and responsible pilot," Mr Brus told AAP.

Ms Fitzsimons bought WardAir Flight Training, which consists of several planes and employs four staff members when she moved from Sydney to Bathurst about three years ago.

"She is the chief pilot here, but more importantly she is our mentor and friend," Mr Patterson said.

A team of three investigators from Australian Transport Safety Bureau will be on site for the next three days to examine the wreckage, gather any available recorded data and interview any witnesses.

"The ATSB will release its findings at the conclusion of the investigation and should we find any critical safety issues along the way then we will notify the relevant parties immediately," ATSB spokesman Stuart Godley said on Wednesday.