It was a day every airline chief plans for meticulously but hopes will never happen - an aircraft down with little chance of survivors.
For Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe, that day came yesterday with a call at 6.30am. A message relayed from two of his pilots in Frankfurt stated there were problems with the A320 they were looking to fly home. His public relations team began getting calls around the same time, the first from CNN.
"We spend a lot of time preparing ourselves in a technical sense for how we deal with a situation like this. We have many hundreds of trained staff in our special assistance teams that are trained to mobilise either at the site of the incident or support the families involved," Fyfe said.
"Emotionally you can't prepare yourself for something like this. It's certainly one of the toughest experiences I've had in my career and it's far from over yet."
During the worst day in three years at the top of Air New Zealand, the 47-year-old spoke to relatives of those on board the plane, held briefings for hundreds of staff - some of whom were in tears - fronted three media conferences and helped co-ordinate the airline's own response.
"It has been a tough year but it doesn't get tougher than this. The hard thing for me is that you're dealing with families who are deeply distressed, there's a major logistical and technical exercise in terms of managing what's going on and then there's 11,000 Air New Zealand staff who are emotionally affected by this.
"They're wanting information and to be comforted so you have to provide leadership through this."
The former Air Force officer had a business background in banking and Telecom before joining the airline.
Fyfe inherited an airline that was heading in the right direction following the terror attacks and Ansett collapse of 2001 but he has shaped a nimble operation now weathering the worldwide economic meltdown.
He was quick to freeze pay for his fellow executives, and has resisted pressure for mass scale job slashing. He's loath to be labelled some sort of South Seas version of Richard Branson but has an enthusiasm that goes down well with his staff of "Air New Zealanders".
Fyfe knows only too well the significance of yesterday, the 29th anniversary of the day 257 were killed when an Air NZ plane ploughed into Mt Erebus.
There is a sombre ritual marking the day every year - the airline's chief executive and head pilot lay a wreath at a memorial in Auckland to Erebus victims, well out of the public gaze.
Chief pilot Dave Morgan performed that sad duty alone yesterday. Fyfe had another tragedy to deal with.By Grant Bradley Email Grant