Air Show fans fume at gridlock

By Celeste Gorrell Anstiss

Spitfires at the RNZAF Air Show. Photo / APN
Spitfires at the RNZAF Air Show. Photo / APN

Air Show fans were fuming after many spent much of yesterday in a 55km long traffic jam before turning around and heading home.

Cars coming from Levin and Palmerston North ground to a standstill from around 8am as nearly 70,000 people descended on Ohakea Air Base for the Royal New Zealand Air Force's 75th Anniversary Air Show.

A police spokeswoman said the day's traffic chaos would be reviewed. Police had been working off a traffic management plan provided to the RNZAF by a private company.

"The situation was not ideal. It was the combination of a big event, good weather and cheap tickets. The sheer numbers caused a gridlock on the road."

Those lucky enough to see the show were enthusiastic. Flying displays will resume this morning, culminating in a finale from aerobatics squad the Red Checkers at about 3.15pm.

But for those stranded on the roads, it was a grim day. Just before 9am, a collision between a motorcyclist and a car on SH3 added to the headaches on the roads.

The motorcyclist was taken to Palmerston North Hospital with moderate injuries.

Many would-be spectators blamed poor organisation and a lack of car-parking.

Matthew Donoghue said he met the tail end of the traffic jam after he passed the accident in free-flow traffic.

"We never made it because the closer we got to the air field, the slower traffic went," Donoghue said.

"The cause of the congestion can be placed squarely on the lack of organisation by the Ohakea staff, as well as a complete lack of information being broadcast on the radio."

Around 10,000 tickets were pre-purchased online and many deemed these useless.

Jackie Cheesman, 23, had driven from Lower Hutt and gave up just 5km from the base.

"We left home at eight and turned around at 12.30. We just weren't moving," she said.

"We figured by the time we got there we would have to deal with this sort of traffic all the way home as well."

Cheesman and her partner paid $20 for the tickets online and wanted a refund.

Nic Steenhout, 40, left home in Palmerston North at 9am. The journey would usually take 25 minutes but by 11am he was yet to reach halfway.

"This is the military, you would expect them to be quite logistical and organised," Steenhout said, from the traffic.

An Air Force spokeswoman said refunds would be available on Monday thorugh Eventfinder. She said the traffic plan had estimated 50,000 people would attend, which was out by up to 20,000 people. The final tally of 60,000-70,000 people did not include those who never got to the show.

- Herald on Sunday

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