Two grieving families watched from a dimly-lit runway as the bodies of Lance Corporals Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone arrived home to New Zealand.

The pair, their caskets each covered in a New Zealand flag, flowers, their hat and a single framed photo, were carried off a United States Air Force C-17 in Christchurch late last night.

It was the first time their families could be reunited with the men, who were killed in a gun battle in Afghanistan at the weekend.

"Tonight, Lance Corporal Durrer and Lance Corporal Malone have returned home to both their families," chief of the defence force Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said.


"The Defence Force family will continue to support the Durrers and the Malones over this difficult time because in one sense we share a common loss."

The bodies of the two soldiers, both aged 26, arrived in Christchurch at 10.50pm.

They were met by family, senior military officials, personnel from the 2nd and 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment and Queen Alexandra's Mounted Rifles.

Final arrangements are being made for tomorrow's military commemorative service at Burnham Military Camp before the soldiers are returned to their families for private funerals.

The men were killed when their patrols went to the aid of ambushed Afghan police in Bamiyan province on Saturday night (NZT).

Another six New Zealanders were injured.

Corporal Durrer and Corporal Malone were farewelled with a haka and ramp ceremony at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on Monday.

Corporal Durrer was from Christchurch and joined the army in June 2004.

Corporal Malone was from Auckland and joined the army in 2002.