Perpignan Air NZ crash: Too much trust in plane

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 23:02 02/03/2014
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ON BOARD: Air New Zealand engineer Noel Marsh (left), captain Brian Horrell (centre) and engineer Michael Gyles, all killed in the crash.

CRASH: The tail section of the Air New Zealand Airbus A320 jet, seen above water in the Mediterranean Sea off France's southwest coast.
Reuters
CRASH: The tail section of the Air New Zealand Airbus A320 jet, seen above water in the Mediterranean Sea off France's southwest coast.

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An Air New Zealand plane crashed into the Mediterranean in 2008, killing all seven aboard, because its pilots trusted the Airbus A320 too much, a French air accident investigator says.

The plane crashed into the sea, killing five New Zealanders and two Germans, during an acceptance test out of the southern French city of Perpignan.

The tragedy was featured on Sunday as the National Geographic TV channel ran a new series of Air Crash Investigation, produced by a Canadian documentary maker.

"They trusted their plane too much," Sebastian David, the principal investigator for the Paris based Bureau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses (BEA), told the programme.

It reported that the plane had been under lease to the German airline XL Airways and was being returned to Air New Zealand.

Before it could be handed over the aircraft had been sent to maintenance firm EAS Industries in Perpignan for painting into the Air New Zealand livery.

The programme reported the plane picked up dust during the work and shortly before the acceptance flight and it was hosed down with a fire hose connected to the local water main.

Air Crash Investigation reported that this forced water into the vital angle of attack sensors on the side of the Airbus, which froze at altitude, rendering the on board computers unreliable.

The programme also revealed the French air traffic controllers were unhappy with the acceptance flight conducting testing in the busy airways.

The plane then returned to Perpignan and conducted a series of tests on the way back.

The crew did not know their angle of attack sensors had been rendered useless and near Perpignan they began to conduct a low speed recovery test.

That test was conducted at a too low attitude and the crew had no chance to recover, the programme reported.

David was quoted saying the Germans and New Zealanders did not understand the situation they were in as the plane stalled and then plunged into the sea, killing all aboard instantly.

Air Crash Investigation recreated the last moments of the Air New Zealand flight, including the last desperate words of the crew.

German pilots Norbert Kaeppel, 51, and co-pilot Theodor Ketzer, 58, were flying, monitored by Air New Zealand Captain Brian Horrell, 52, of Auckland.

Also killed were engineers Murray White, 37, also from Auckland, Michael Gyles, 49, and Noel Marsh, 35, both from Christchurch, and Jeremy Cook, 58, an airworthiness inspector from Wellington.

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