07 September 2010

Shake Rattle and Roll into Wellington

A flight from Wellington to Gisborne has been described by a passenger as the most “traumatic” he has experienced in 38 years... but Air New Zealand say the passengers were not in danger. Terrifying conditions out of Wellington airport have been confirmed by passengers on the same plane on its return flight that left half an hour after landing at Gisborne on Sunday evening. In both cases, lack of warning or reassurance from the crew has been criticised. The Beech 1900D aircraft left Wellington at about 3.45pm on Sunday afternoon bound for Gisborne and passenger, former deputy mayor David Scott, described it as “rough as dogs” from take-off. “We flew out over the harbour and it was tossing around quite normally, as it does in Wellington. But then above Mt Victoria, we got into an air pocket, then hit a wind shear,” he said. The plane turned violently . . . “as you can imagine, inside the plane people were screaming at the top of their voices,” he said. “Money and phones were flying out of people’s bags, and the baggage getting thrown around in the back sounded like a concrete mixer. One lady in the front cried the whole way through and there was a woman with a baby that was very distressed. It was traumatic.” The rest of the flight was calm and Mr Scott said he was surprised that one of the crew did not come through at any point to see how the passengers were. “They must have known by the screaming that the passengers were scared. Most people have never experienced anything like that and I would have expected more understanding and attention to the people on the plane. When we got into Gisborne, I told him it was an awful piece of flying and the pilot said that was the ‘interesting stuff’.” Mr Scott intends to write to Air New Zealand about the “cavalier attitude” of the pilots. Air New Zealand spokeswoman Andrea Dale said she spoke to the pilots and they announced to passengers before take-off they expected some turbulence that was not usual for Wellington. “At approximately 600ft the aircraft experienced some strong turbulence with the only notable change being the aircraft tilted to the left by approximately 15 degrees. “The crew continued the ascent and once out of the turbulence at 1000ft, informed the passengers that they were through the turbulence and visually checked passengers were OK,” she said. “The safety of passengers and crew is of paramount importance so if the pilots felt there was any concern they would have returned to Wellington. We will respond directly to any formal complaints we receive.” • Mr Scott’s criticism is echoed by a Gisborne university student who was among “terrified” passengers on the return flight to Wellington. “The plane went berserk over Cook Strait. The dark made it worse — you could not see how high we were. We were hitting air pockets. One moment you could see the runway lights, then we would skid sideways.” “I tried to keep a level head, telling myself ‘this is Wellington’ but passengers were screaming and shouting, luggage and doors were banging. “A man behind me was in the emergency crash position.” “I have had unnerving flights before but I was a mess this time. “I was jelly after we landed”. Well used to flying, she was amazed at the lack of warning other than to prepare themselves for turbulence, and the lack of acknowledgement after landing. “The crew did not say enough. “They should have warned people and they should have reassured us afterwards,” she said. “Others I spoke to afterwards were amazed we flew in those conditions. In weather that bad, we need larger planes.”

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