Five Kiwis and two German pilots were killed in a plane crash off the coast of France. The plane, an Airbus A320, was on a test flight after maintenance in France. The plane was only three years old. It had flown 2800 flights and a total of around 7000 hours. The plane belonged to Air NZ but had been leased to a German charter company for the last two years. Then it went back to the factory for maintenance. Four Air NZ staff – a captain and three engineers – as well as a New Zealand air inspector went to France to bring the plane back to New Zealand.
The Air New Zealand captain, Brian Horrell, was sitting right behind the two German pilots. This was a two hour test flight and had no problems until it was returning to the air field when it suddenly dropped into the sea. 60 divers and several rescue boats searched for bodies and the black box. They found two bodies and two black boxes. French authorities say there is no hope of finding more bodies.
The Airbus 320 is considered to be one of the safest planes in the world. Air NZ has 12 of these planes and uses them in the Pacific and across the Tasman to Australia. They hold 152 passengers. There are 1960 A320s in the world used by 155 different airlines.
There are many sad stories about the five New Zealanders who were killed. The two engineers from Christchurch had been very excited about being chosen to go to France. Their names had been pulled out of a hat. Noel Marsh, one of the engineers, has two children and his wife is pregnant with their third child. Michael Gyles has two young boys. Captain Horrell has two teenage children. He had worked for Air NZ for 22 years.
The CEO of Air NZ has flown to France and some of the families of the dead men will also go to France.