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Trapped passengers want investigation

NICOLE MATHEWSON AND STACEY KNOTT
Last updated 09:35 13/05/2014

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Furious Air New Zealand passengers have demanded the Prime Minister investigate their nightmare bus journey during an Easter storm. 

The storm grounded flights to Nelson, forcing Air New Zealand passengers to travel by bus.

However, slips blocked the road, stranding the passengers in ''perilous'' conditions overnight near Kaikoura in a leaking bus with no toilets and no communications onboard.

Retired scientist Oliver Sutherland was one of 27 passengers due to fly from Christchurch to Nelson on April 17 when a storm grounded flights.  The passengers were put on a bus to get to Nelson.

Christchurch Airport was a ''shambles'' and no one was taking names of who was getting on to the buses, he said.

The bus travelled up the east coast where it was stopped by a slip near Kaikoura. The driver turned back to Kaikoura, but the bus was stopped by another slip and had to stop on the road for the night. The passengers were on the bus for a total of 22 hours.

Sutherland said two people on the bus required medical attention, including a man who had recently been treated for a brain tumour.

Many of the passengers feared for their lives, he said.

''The bus passengers, who had an unstable and moving hillside above them on one side and a raging sea on the other, sat and heard, and then watched, a major slip of boulders, mud and tree debris sweep across the road right in front of the bus.''

The bus eventually made it back to Christchurch after diggers cleared the slips.

Sutherland had contacted the Kaikoura District Council as well as Blenheim Police inspector Simon Feltham looking for answers as to why they were left on the bus overnight.

Passenger Marianne Allom told Radio New Zealand (RNZ) she thought she was going to die during the 22-hour ordeal.

"I was making my peace. It wasn't great peace because I had my 18-year-old son with me... it was terrifying."

Fellow passenger Sean Trengrove has hand-delivered a letter to the Prime Minister demanding he investigate the incident.

Trengrove said the passengers believed there was a gap in emergency management control.

He queried why the road had not been closed before the passengers got trapped.

In a message sent to Air New Zealand staff on May 5, chief executive Christopher Luxon said the companies contracted by the airline to transport passengers to Nelson had consulted the NZ Transport Agency to check road conditions before leaving Christchurch. 

"Unfortunately conditions around the Kaikoura region deteriorated throughout the evening, causing road closures which delayed the arrival in Nelson of the passenger travelling by road," he said.

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The passengers were later offered a full refund of their airfares and compensation by Air New Zealand.

The airline told Fairfax earlier this month that its policy when weather caused disruptions was to try to put passengers on the next available service.

In some cases, the option of road transport would be offered to get them to their final ticketed destination, a spokeswoman said. 

- The Press

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