Breakthrough in Air NZ crash investigation

Last updated 07:50 09/01/2009

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France's air crash investigation authorities say they have recovered black box data from the Air New Zealand A320 plane that crashed last November.

The data may ultimately explain why the plane crashed.

The Airbus had been on charter to a German airline and was in Perpignan, France, for maintenance on November 27 last year when it crashed into the Mediterranean Sea off Carnet in the south of France.

Five New Zealanders and two Germans died.

The Paris headquartered Bureau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses (BEA) is investigating the crash while the Perpignan State Prosecutor is conducting a manslaughter investigation.

BEA this morning issued a statement in cooperation with the Prosecutor.

"After the recovery of the flight recorders, it appeared that the data that could have been recorded could be downloaded only by using the facilities available at Honeywell, the manufacturer of these recorders, in Seattle," BEA said.

"The work undertaken in the recorder manufacturer's laboratories, with the participation of specialised investigators from the BEA and the NTSB (US National Transportation Safety Board), did in fact make it possible to recover the data from the memory cards of the two recorders, the Cockpit Voice Recorder and the Flight Data Recorder."

It said the downloading of data was done in the presence of a senior French police officer as part of a French International Judicial Commission.

"The BEA will now begin analysing this data, in parallel with the operations undertaken within the framework of the judicial inquiry."

In a brief statement Air New Zealand said it welcomed the news.

"This is an important step in the investigation process and will hopefully provide insight into the cause of the accident, as well as helping to provide closure for the families who lost their loved ones," the airline said, adding it would make no further comment until French authorities provided more information.

BEA is scheduled to host a meeting on January 13 in Perpignan to discuss the state of the investigation.

Because the A320 has become a major commuter workhorse, along with the Boeing 737, the mystery of the Air New Zealand crash has promoted concern in the aviation world.

Four of the five New Zealanders on board were Air New Zealand staff, Captain Brian Horrell, 52, from Auckland; engineers Murray White, 37, from Auckland, Michael Gyles, 49, from Christchurch, and Noel Marsh, 35, from Christchurch.

The fifth New Zealander was Civil Aviation Authority airworthiness inspector Jeremy Cook, 58, of Wellington.

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The two German pilots were never named.

- Fairfax Media

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