Aircrew failed to tell passengers to brace for a crash landing despite emergency crews on alert as their Air Nelson plane's nose wheel collapsed on landing at Blenheim Airport.
The Bombardier Q300 with 46 passengers and three crew crash-landed at 5.05pm yesterday after the Wellington-to-Nelson flight was diverted from Nelson due to bad weather.
The incident is being investigated, but Air Nelson has not grounded its fleet of 23 aircraft.
A passenger on the flight, Morrie Love, said a squelchy noise on landing and the sight of an ambulance and fire engine making their way towards the plane were the only clues the plane had crash-landed.
"There was just all of this noise, not scary noise, not graunching metal, just more like squelchy water. I thought it was a tyre blow out. The plane was very stable, it was just fine.
"It just came to a much quicker stop than normal and we were sitting in the middle of the runway. It seemed most odd, with a fire engine chasing us."
Mr Love said there was no warning from the pilot or crew that the landing gear was not working.
"That would have been a call from the pilot – he would have been pretty busy I guess making sure everything was all right."
Mr Love said it wasn't until passengers disembarked that they saw how serious it was.
"When people saw that there was no nose wheel there and we had just scrapped our way in then they realised it was perhaps a closer call than it seemed like in the plane."
He said passengers didn't seem upset that they had not been told they were in for a potentially dangerous landing.
"I think people were just relieved and very thankful of the pilot doing a good job. I think he was probably expecting the gear was down and locked but ready if it wasn't to deal with that. I think that was probably the right call."
Mr Love said by the time the plane got to Blenheim they had been in the air for two hours.
The plane had first circled over Tasman Bay for about 30 minutes, making two attempts to land before heading for Blenheim. At Blenheim they also circled a couple of times.
Mr Love said the pilot told him afterwards it wasn't until they got to Blenheim that crew realised there was a problem with the nose wheel locking.
He said the pilot told him he tried a secondary process which showed the gear had locked down so he proceeded to land and notified emergency services.
Air New Zealand spokeswoman Lara Harrison said Air Nelson has had no previous nose wheel failures.
The Air NZ subsidiary is liaising with the Civil Aviation Authority and the Transport Accident Investigation Commission after the crash landing.
All Air Nelson's aircraft underwent routine checks before flying today.
Ms Harrison said Air NZ was not aware of any issues across Q300 aircraft operated by other airlines.
She said the pilots were "aware of a potential issue" before landing in Blenheim but checks showed the landing gear was in place.
As the pilot landed he felt that the nose wheel wasn't locked and kept the nose of the aircraft up as long as possible before bringing it to a stop, she said.
Ms Harrison said Air NZ is in contact with Bombardier and will be working with them to investigate the issue.
Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) investigator Peter Williams said he would begin his investigation in Blenheim today. It would be "at least six months" before his report was completed.
Although air accident investigators always allowed a lengthy period, "first indications are there's not much damage and we should be able to get to the bottom of it reasonably quickly", he said.
"Fortunately there was no injury and no great drama involved in this one. It was a relatively minor incident of this sort."
He said he wasn't aware of any issues around the landing gear of this type of aircraft and a television report last night connecting the incident with a completely different type of Bombardier plane – a regional jet – had been "pretty unfair". It was a matter of public record that Air Nelson had a good safety record, Mr Williams said.
Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Bill Sommer said TAIC was handling the investigation and the Dash-8 fleet would not be grounded unless there was an indication that what happened was a fleet-wide problem.
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