Plane loses cabin pressure
An Air New Zealand plane lost cabin pressure and passengers were forced to use oxygen masks on a flight from Wellington to Auckland this morning.
Transport Accident Investigation Commission chief investigator Tim Burfoot said two investigators were on their way to Auckland to assess the aircraft, talk to engineers and to collect flight data including the cockpit recorder.
The aircraft would be quarantined until it was assessed as safe to fly.
Burfoot said an aircraft losing cabin pressure was unusual but it "does happen and there are systems and procedures in place".
"If a plane loses cabin pressure the oxygen masks fall, which they did, and crew will initiate an immediate descent. Planes are designed to cater for it."
Burfoot said unless there was an urgent problem identified with the aircraft a report on the incident would be about a year away.
Michael Donaldson, a passenger on the plane, a Boeing 737, which left Wellington at 7.30am, said about 15 minutes before it was to start landing procedures the oxygen masks dropped from the panels and a continuous "this is an emergency" was played over the PA system.
Donaldson said the plane then went into a "very steep" descent which lasted for about five minutes before it levelled out again. He said the flight attendants were calm and controlled but a few people were panicking.
"It was the scariest experience I have ever had in a plane," he said.
Former Olympic champion triathlete Hamish Carter was also on the flight and said the experience was "terrifying".
"It is nice to be back on solid ground".
Carter said you could sense the pressure dropping "really quickly" but the cabin crew were "great" and kept passengers calm.
"People were pretty nervous".
Carter said he had been in worse mid-flight dramas before but he had never seen the oxygen masks fall down.
The plane was able to continue flying at a lower altitude and passengers were eventually told they could stop using the oxygen masks. The plane landed without further incident.
Donaldson said after landing the pilot came out and said it had been a "real deal emergency" but everything went fine as the crew "were trained for this".
Air New Zealand Chief Flight Operations and Safety Officer, Captain David Morgan, said NZ414 "experienced a gradual loss of cabin pressure on approach to Auckland which caused the oxygen masks to automatically deploy in the cabin".
"The pilots immediately initiated a descent to 7000 feet and the cabin crew advised passengers that oxygen masks were no longer required at that point.
"The aircraft landed without further incident and engineers are now investigating the cause of the incident."