The Transport Accident Investigation Commission is investigating the "whiteout" landing by an air force jet in Antarctica.
The Boeing 757 landed on Monday in weather below minimum standards. It had insufficient fuel to reach an alternate airport.
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully was aboard with about 120 other passengers when it passed the point of safe return and said it was "right up there" with landing under fire in Afghanistan.
The commission's inquiry would work alongside, but independently of, the air force's own investigation, TAIC chief investigator of accidents Captain Tim Burfoot said.
“While the commission is precluded from investigating incidents and accidents confined to New Zealand Defence Force resources, this occurrence involved a combination of military and civilian personnel and services.”
It was too early to say how long the investigation would take, or whether international participation in the inquiry would be needed, he said.
McCully said he had flown into Afghanistan under fire but this flight was "right up there".
"It was not a very good situation to be in," he said.
The plane circled to burn off its fuel and then the pilot descended through the clouds until a landing could be accomplished by sight.
McCully said he had a 22-year-old staffer on her first trip with him and his attempts to play down the incident were stymied when a flight attendant came and briefed them on what to do in case of “impact” and what to do with the flight attendant's body should they be killed or seriously injured.
The landing was achieved without incident due to the pilot's "extraordinary skill", he said.
He rejected that the flight was a "stuff-up", saying that conditions changed "more than anyone could have expected".
- © Fairfax NZ News
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