8 Dec 2008

Airbus crash victims family and friends return to NZ

11:46 am on 8 December 2008

The 21 family and friends of the New Zealanders lost in the Airbus crash off France are making their journey home.

The Airbus A320 crashed off the coast of France at 4.46pm on 28 November, killing seven people. Two German pilots, four Air New Zealand personnel and a Civil Aviation Authority engineer were aboard.

Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe said the first of the families left Perpignan on Friday and the last will leave on Monday.

Many of the family members have spent the past few days meeting with friends and colleagues who worked with the five New Zealand victims while they were based there.

Mr Fyfe said it has been an incredibly moving time, with some family members also visiting sights they had heard about from those who died.

A senior New Zealand presence will remain in Perpignan during the next phase of the investigation, though Mr Fyfe is returning to New Zealand.

He says the search team and investigators attention to detail has been outstanding.

Mr Fyfe said the airline's latest advice from the French authorities indicates the first two of the four bodies recovered are unlikely to be identified for several days.

He said it will take some days for the bodies that have been found to be released back to the families concerned. Other remains recovered may not be able to be identified and returned to families for at least another two weeks, which Mr Fyfe describes as an agonising wait.

Mr Fyfe said while there is a strong sense of family and community amongst the small New Zealand contingent in Perpignan, uncertainty over time frames and the dislocation from family members back home is taking its toll.

He said that is why they have decided to return home to reunite with their loved ones and await advice from the identification process.

" ... It became clear to us all that the opportunity to bring our lost men home may be some time off as French authorities continue with the painstaking recovery and body identification tasks," he said.

Marines have finished underwater mapping of the crash site, and wreckage could eventually be raised to the surface with special equipment.

French authorities plan to continue the search until all the bodies are found.