29 Nov 2008

Crashed Airbus A320 broke up on impact

12:47 pm on 29 November 2008

French authorities have told Air New Zealand an Airbus A320 which crashed off the coast of France with seven people on board on Thursday, broke up on impact.

Two bodies have been found. Five others are still missing.

Navy divers returned to the scene at dawn on Friday.

Officials say the wreckage is lying on a sandy bank at a depth of 35 metres, about 7km off the coast of Perpignan.

French authorities have told Air New Zealand there is no chance of any survivors being found.

Group general manager Ed Sims says the weather is hampering search efforts and the forecast is set to worsen.

Two black box flight recorders from the plane have been located, but not yet recovered.

The crash occurred at 4.46pm (1546 GMT) on Thursday when the aircraft was approaching the airport at Perpignan after a test flight that had lasted about an hour.

An Air New Zealand captain and three engineers were aboard, as well as a Civil Aviation Authority official and two pilots from a German charter airline, XL Airways.

XL had been leasing the aircraft since 2006 and was about to hand it back to Air New Zealand. The plane was due in New Zealand by the end of the week.

Air New Zealand has named its four employees as: Brian Horrell, 52, a pilot, of Auckland; Murray White, 37, an engineer, also of Auckland; Michael Gyles, 49, an engineer, of Christchurch; and Noel Marsh, an engineer, also of Christchurch

The Civil Aviation Authority official was engineer Jeremy Cook, of Wellington.

Plane four years old

Air New Zealand says the Airbus A320 was less than four years old and was bought new for its now-defunct discount operation Freedom Air.

Chief executive Rob Fyfe said on Friday in Auckland that Freedom flew the plane for about a year before leasing it to XL Airways.

He described the Airbus as being operated by XL Airways at the time of the crash.

The A320, a twin-engine, single-aisle aircraft that normally seats about 150 passengers, is manufactured by Airbus, a unit of European aerospace group, EADS.

About 1,960 A320 aircraft are in service with 155 operators around the world.

Airbus said the aircraft, powered by IAE V2500 engines, was delivered in July 2005 and had accumulated approximately 7,000 flight hours in the course of 2,800 flight cycles.

Erebus anniversary

Friday was on the 29th anniversary of Air New Zealand's biggest disaster.

Flight TE901 crashed into Mt Erebus while on a scenic trip over Antarctica on 28 November, 1979. All 257 people on board died.

Mr Fyfe said on Friday that the anniversary added to the Airbus tragedy.