Passengers in the dark as plane is grounded

MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 11:31 02/12/2013

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Passengers on a flight to Palmerston North that landed soon after takeoff because of smoke in the cabin were unaware what the problem was until they were back inside the terminal.

Crew on board the Mt Cook Airlines flight from Auckland on Saturday morning noticed smoke soon after takeoff.

The plane, which had 52 passengers on board, landed back at Auckland to be met by firefighters. It stopped on the runway where passengers left the plane and were bused back to the terminal.

Among them was Auckland-based Palmerston North woman Emma Wilson, who was flying back for a nephew's birthday. "We took off, we went up at first but we weren't getting any higher and I thought ‘Something strange is going on here'. We turned back and landed again."

Seated near the rear of the plane, Miss Wilson said she had not seen any smoke. As the plane landed there was "dead silence" and passengers were looking at each other, she said. The plane stopped on the taxiway and the engines were turned off before the pilot told passengers to evacuate.

After waiting near the plane, passengers were taken to a conference room inside the terminal.

"We still had no idea what had gone on at this stage."

The pilot spoke to the passengers there and said that as she was taking off, cabin crew noticed smoke in the cabin. The plane was moving too fast to abort takeoff and as cabin crew could still see smoke once the plane was airborne, it returned to the airport.

The pilot told passengers she had not been able to relay to them what was happening as she had been busy flying the plane, Miss Wilson said.

Miss Wilson made it to Palmerston North about six hours after originally scheduled after flying via Christchurch.

A fire communications spokeswoman said engineers were unable to find any signs of fire on board the plane. The spokeswoman said they had concluded the smoke was most likely steam from an air-conditioning unit.

Weather in Wellington also delayed and cancelled flights on Saturday, including one to Palmerston North.

The strong winds in Wellington also meant passengers from Miss Wilson's flight could not be flown to Palmerston North via the capital.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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