Passengers' mid-air terror

By Yvonne Tahana

Passengers on a Great Barrier Airlines flight watched in horror as a propeller came off in mid-air, smashing a window on their aircraft and ripping a door off.

"It was like an explosion going off inside the plane," one told the Herald yesterday.

"The propeller came off and hit the side of the plane ...

"Both propeller blades came off - the whole thing just destroyed itself. It just completely self-destructed.

"A door got ripped off and the side of the plane got smashed in - we all got covered in glass.

"There was a huge amount of debris that we were just covered in. There were chunks the size of golfballs that came back and hit you."

The passenger said the 11.30am Sunday flight to Auckland from Claris Airfield was a six-minute nightmare.

The plane made an emergency landing at Claris

The man, who did not want to be named, was one of 11, including the pilot, on board the three-engine plane.

He said the impact of the propeller, which came from the engine on the right wing, was terrifying.

Passengers noticed the Trislander engine wobbling during takeoff.

"It was just lucky there was one seat spare - that was where it hit and pushed the side of the aircraft in.

"If someone had been sitting there they would have been injured quite severely.

"Everyone remained fairly calm on the aircraft but everyone was fairly nervous of what had happened - thinking 'are we going to survive this? Is the aircraft going to break up?"'

One passenger pulled his camera out while the plane was still in the air.

"The guy I was sitting beside, he had the initiative to grab his camera out, but he was shaking so much he had some trouble taking pictures so I did it."

Two passengers needed medical treatment to remove debris from their eyes, and the man decided to catch a ferry back to Auckland rather than fly.

He was angry that the airline had appeared to downplay the situation yesterday, and also raised concerns about work he had seen engineers doing on the plane on Friday.

"We were taken out and put on another plane. As we were boarding the other plane, there were engineers working on that engine. They had the covers off ... and were doing all sorts of tests with it.

"It appears to me there was a problem there with it or whether the problem had been created by the work carried out on who knows, but it just seems a coincidence that an engine they were working on explodes two days later."

Another passenger told the Herald the incident happened quickly.

"I was really trying to assess the situation and hoping the plane would stay in the air and then we'd get back down safely."

The chief executive of Great Barrier Airlines, Gerard Rea, said the experience would have been a frightening one for those on board and he hadn't intended to downplay it. The airline would make available the results of an internal investigation.

Friday's maintenance on the plane was nothing to do with the propeller, he said.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission is investigating.

- NZ Herald

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