Pilots praised for evacuation
Passengers have praised the calm and professional manner in which pilots evacuated a Beech 1900 aircraft when its cabin filled with smoke.
An Air New Zealand flight from Wellington with 17 passengers on board was evacuated from the taxiway at the northern end of the airport after pilots detected an electrical smell in the cockpit on its landing approach at about 3.30pm yesterday.
The passengers were disembarked on the tarmac, and transported to the terminal by shuttle bus.
The Beech 1900 aircraft, operated by Air New Zealand subsidiary Eagle Air, was inspected by engineers to determine the cause of the smell.
The aircraft was still on the tarmac, surrounded by cones, this morning but the airline said it had been cleared to return to service. A spokesman said engineers had found a "minor issue relating to the operating system for the windscreen wipers."
Tasman District Commander Superintendent Richard Chambers, who was on the plane after attending a meeting in Wellington, said that shortly after landing the cockpit filled with smoke. "You could see it was slightly cloudy.
"It wasn't to the extent that your eyes started to water and you have trouble breathing. The pilots were so quick in getting people off and the risks were mitigated."
There was no panic and the pilots were quick in shutting down the plane, and in advising passengers that they needed to get off the plane, he said.
"The two Air New Zealand pilots did a magnificent job in getting everyone off."
The plane was not quite full, and contained a mixture of children, the elderly and middle-aged groups.
Once off the plane, they were led to a safe area, and then taken to the nearby Helicopters New Zealand building to be debriefed.
"It's an art, in emergency situations, to stay composed. Situations like that can have a different outcome."
Emirates pilot Mike Gallagher, travelling to Nelson to visit family, said there had been no major concern, and the evacuation was "a very low-key event".
"We were told to disembark, very calm and controlled."
Given his knowledge and experience, he knew when the pilots shut down the power there was a problem.
"When you see pilots shutting down after landing, that's not normal. I saw the obvious signs."
They had handled the situation well, he said.
Other passengers declined to be interviewed, but praised the efforts of the pilots, with one saying they were "awesome".
The incident sparked a full emergency with fire engines called from Richmond, Nelson and Stoke.
St John Tasman district operations manager James McMeekin said ambulances had also responded to the full emergency call, but were stood down when it was discovered that no-one was injured or required medical attention.
Fire Service Nelson station officer Craig Davies said the emergency procedures of the airline and emergency services had worked well.
The weather in Nelson complicated matters further, with fog and low cloud halting flights in and out.
The aircraft involved in the emergency landing was one of a few yesterday that managed to arrive on time.
The Nelson Airport main terminal was packed with passengers trying to get in and out of Nelson. An Air New Zealand spokesman said the weather caused flight delays and the cancellation of two outbound services. Passenger Jonathan McKeown, who was on a flight that managed to land at around 1pm, said the airport was "bursting" with people.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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