The disturbing last moments of the Air New Zealand Airbus 320 which crashed off southern France on November 27 have been revealed in the first public report of information in the aircraft's black boxes.
As the bodies of four of the five New Zealanders killed in the crash were released by authorities to return home, French investigators described the chilling findings from the two flight recorders.
Perpignan state prosecutor Jean-Pierre Dreno said the pilots "were having a lot of difficulty controlling the plane", and that in their last seconds "they were screaming" as they hit the water.
Mr Dreno told TV3 that as the plane was descending to land, a sudden surge in engine power propelled the Airbus 320 into a steep, upwards climb towards the sky, which was too sharp to recover from.
"First [the plane] goes up, then fell on its side, then it entered the sea...very quickly...with much force."
The investigation, which includes a judicial inquiry for manslaughter, will not be complete until more data from the crash has been collected. Investigators will collect more debris from the southern coast of France next week.
Air New Zealand chief Rob Fyfe said French investigators hoped to have an interim report on the causes of the crash by the end of the month.
The investigation had been delayed because data from the recorder of the voices on the flight deck conflicted with data from the technical recorder, which registers the position of the plane's flaps, trajectory and other flight parameters.
The remains of four of the dead were due to be loaded on board a specially chartered flight this morning at Perpignan, ready for the journey home.
The four were Captain Brian Horrell, 52, from Auckland; Christchurch engineers Michael Gyles, 49, and Noel Marsh, 35; and Jeremy Cook, 58, of Wellington, an airworthiness inspector with the Civil Aviation Authority. A fifth, Auckland engineer Murray White, 37, remains missing.
Two German staff were also killed.
The release of the bodies had been delayed until investigators had acquired sufficient forensic details.
Meanwhile, Mr Fyfe said a string of accidents involving the Airbus A320 had not shaken his faith in the safety of this jet, which became a mainstay of the airline's fleet under a strategic shift six years ago.
In addition to the November 27 A320 crash off southern France, an Air France A321 - the stretched version of the A320 - suffered a brief double-engine stall while flying out of Tunisia on December 14 and last week a US Airways A320 crash-landed on New York's Hudson River after losing power in both engines, apparently due to a bird strike.
Mr Fyfe said nothing so far pointed to a common cause for these accidents and he retained total confidence in the A320.
"This aircraft has been operating for 21 years and has flown more than 40 million flights," he told the Herald from Perpignan where he was accompanying relatives of the victims.
"There is nothing that I have seen that gives me any concern for the safe operation of this aircraft.
"The quality of manufacture, the design standards, that for us is not an issue."
He added: "That's what makes this mystery, as to what caused this accident, even more perplexing. Clearly it is something very unusual and very untoward, given that this aircraft flies around the skies, 4000 of them, every day."