28 Nov 2008

Five NZers in fatal plane crash - airline

11:40 am on 28 November 2008

Air New Zealand has confirmed five New Zealanders were on board its Airbus which crashed off the south western coast of France.

The airline says the A320 flight from Perpignan to Frankfurt took off at at 4.46pm (1546 GMT) on Thursday, flown by two pilots of a German charter airline, XL Airways.

Also on board were an Air New Zealand captain, three engineers and a Civil Aviation Authority representative.

Air New Zealand says it is in close contact with their families.

There are reports two bodies have been recovered. The other five are still missing.

XL had been leasing the aircraft since 2006, but was about to hand it back to Air New Zealand and it was due in the country by the end of the week.

Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe says at this stage he can only confirm that one body has been recovered and that six are missing.

Earlier, the French coastguard reported there were no survivors among the seven people on board.

A Maritime official told CNN that floating debris has been located. A surveillance plane, two rescue helicopters and five ships are at the scene 3.5 nautical miles (2.5km) from shore.

Mr Fyfe says there is no information about what caused the crash.

Erebus anniversary

28 November is the 29th anniversary of Air New Zealand's biggest disaster, when Flight TE901 crashed into Mt Erebus while on a scenic trip over Antarctica.

All 257 people on board died.

Mr Fyfe says the anniversary adds to the Airbus tragedy.

Prime Minister John Key says the crash is a 'tragic loss' for the families of the crew and the airline.

He says the Government is in touch with Air New Zealand and is monitoring the situation.

Transport Minister, Stephen Joyce, says the Government is gettting regular briefings from the airline and the CAA.

He says an official from the Transport Accident Investigation Commission is likely to leave for France on Friday night.

Status of plane

Air New Zealand says the Airbus A320 was less than four years old and was bought new for its now-defunct discount operation Freedom Air.

Mr Fyfe says Freedom flew the plane for about a year before leasing it to XL Airways.

He describes the Airbus as being operated by XL Airways at the time of the crash.

The A320, a twin-engine, single aisle aircraft that normally seats around 150 passengers, is manufactured by Airbus, a unit of European aerospace group, EADS.

Around 1,960 A320 aircraft are in service with 155 operators around the world.

Airbus said the aircraft, powered by IAE V2500 engines, was delivered in July 2005 and had accumulated approximately 7000 flight hours in some 2800 flight cycles.