LATEST: A Pacific Blue flight that took off from Queenstown in apparent violation of flight rules and endangering the lives of its 140 passengers is under investigation by the Civil Aviation Authority.
Radio New Zealand said the flight, DJ89, was heading to Sydney at dusk and in poor conditions which included fog and an advancing storm.
RNZ said the flight had been scheduled to take off at 4.30pm on June 22 but was delayed and did not leave until 5.25pm.
Under the visual flight rules it was operating under it could not have taken off later than 5.05 pm to give it 30 minutes of twilight to make it back into the airport if it needed to.
Witnesses told RNZ the plane flew dangerously low in dark skies.
Harbour master Marty Black, one of at least four witnesses, says the aircraft never climbed as it should, but instead flew at under 1000 feet as it tried to negotiate its way through mountains in thick cloud.
"It couldn't have been above a thousand feet, it was low, bloody low, never climbed at all," he said.
Another witness Alan Kirker said he first heard unusual noise.
"I kept watching it and watching it."
It banked around the golf course and flew low down the lake.
"I thought, Jesus, man, it was banking almost on its side."
A Pacific Blue spokesperson says the plane did take off outside daylight hours and the company will co-operate fully with the investigation.
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