20 Jan 2009

Airbus victims' bodies returned home

7:35 pm on 20 January 2009

The remains of four of the five New Zealanders killed in the Air New Zealand Airbus crash off the southern coast of France in November have arrived home.

The A320 aircraft crashed into the Mediterranean off the coast of Perpignan on 27 November, killing all seven on board - five New Zealanders and two German pilots.

The plane carrying the bodies of Air New Zealand captain Brian Horrell, engineers Michael Gyles and Noel Marsh and Civil Aviation Authority airworthiness inpector Jeremy Cook touched down at Auckland International Airport at 11am on Tuesday.

The body of Air New Zealand engineer Murray White has not yet been recovered.

Family members and Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe were also on the flight back to New Zealand.

Once all the other passengers had disembarked, the Boeing 747 was towed to a hangar where a private ceremony was to be held.

At the hangar, about 1,000 people gathered for the ceremony, which began with musician Dave Dobbyn performing his song Welcome Home.

Mr Fyfe said arriving back in New Zealand marked the end of another chapter as they all came to terms with the tragedy.

Crash cause still baffles investigators

French authorities have told Air New Zealand they still do not know the cause of the crash.

Mr Fyfe said investigators are certain of the flight path and that power was applied to the aircraft's engines, but they do not know how or why.

He said the investigating team will need several more weeks of analysis before it has a clear idea of a likely cause of the crash.

Chief French investigator Jean Pierre Dreno said the cockpit voice recorder captured the pilots' screams as the plane was about to crash.

Mr Dreno said a surge of power during the landing approach seemed to send the plane upwards before it stalled and fell on its side, plunging into the sea with tremendous force.

Air New Zealand said it has nothing to add to the French official's comments, which it said came as a surprise to the airline and victims' families.