When Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing in 2014, in one of the greatest mysteries of aviation history, there were two New Zealanders among the 239 passengers and crew on board.

They were Paul Weeks, 38, who was living in Perth, and Ximin Wang, 50, an Auckland bus driver.

Most people on board the flight bound for Beijing, China from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014 were of Chinese origin.

The crew of the Boeing 777-200 last communicated with air traffic controllers around 38 minutes after takeoff. The plane went off civilian radar screens soon after, and from military radar about an hour later.

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New Zealander Paul Weeks, who was living in Perth, was on Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared in March 2014.
New Zealander Paul Weeks, who was living in Perth, was on Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared in March 2014.

The search for the plane focused at first on the South China and Andaman seas until analysis of its satellite communications identified a possible crash site somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean, well away from the flight's planned flight path to Beijing.

Pieces of debris confirmed to be from the plane washed ashore in the western Indian Ocean in the two years after its loss.

The finds have continued. Relatives of the lost last year handed over to Malaysian authorities newly discovered debris, including a Boeing floor panel believed to be from the missing plane.

It and four other small plane parts were found by fishermen off the coast of Madagascar, which is 6000km from Malaysia and on the opposite side of the Indian Ocean.

In the face of failure of the official searches, a number of theories have been put forward to try to explain the disappearance.

One is that the pilot in command, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, of Penang, succeeded in a murder-suicide mission. Others are hijacking, possibly with complicity from members of the crew, and a struggle over the plane's controls; and an electrical fire.

Loss of the oxygen supply has been proposed, rendering everyone on board unconscious, the plane flying on for six hours until it ran out of fuel and hit the ocean. A variant of this suggests the captain was the only one to have an oxygen mask on, but Australian investigators have discounted this, saying it wouldn't necessarily have fully protected him from a sudden loss of oxygen throughout the plane.

The Australian investigators believed the plane probably crashed - because of the scattered pattern of debris - as opposed to being ditched.

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New Zealand's first aviation fatality was the death of performer David Mahoney - alias Captain Charles Lorraine - who lost control of his coal-gas-filled balloon in a Christchurch nor'wester in 1899 and fell into Lyttelton Harbour, where he died. Our first fatal plane crash - the pilot was Cecil Hill - was in Christchurch too, in 1919.

Notable plane crashes
Below is a list of notable civilian aviation crashes involving New Zealanders and those which caused the death of five or more people:

2014 - MH17, Ukraine
Two New Zealanders died in the loss of another Malaysia Airlines plane, flight MH17, which was shot down over pro-Russia territory in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. They were New Zealand woman Mary Menke, 65, and her Dutch husband Gerry, who both lived in Australia, and New Zealand resident Robert Ayley, of Otaki.

All 298 passengers and crew died in the attack involving a missile found by an international investigation team to have originated with Russia's armed forces.

Wreckage of the Air New Zealand plane crash at Mt Erebus, Antarctica on November 30, 1979 in which all 257 passengers and crew died.
Wreckage of the Air New Zealand plane crash at Mt Erebus, Antarctica on November 30, 1979 in which all 257 passengers and crew died.

1979 - Mt Erebus

Of all air tragedies involving New Zealanders, the Air New Zealand crash into Mt Erebus in Antarctica, with the death of all 257 people on board on November 28, 1979, remains the worst.

At 12.49pm, with less than 5 seconds' warning from the ground-proximity indicator, flight TE901 slammed into the slopes of the volcano.

Air NZ had been running the one-day non-stop scenic flights from New Zealand, which included a low-flying sweep over McMurdo Sound, since early 1977.

Nearly three weeks before the fatal flight, the pilots of the DC-10 plane were shown printouts of the flight plan used for previous Antarctic flights. The map co-ordinates of the trip, when entered into the computerised navigation system, would be followed automatically by the plane.

However, a change in the co-ordinates led to the pilots' trusting incorrect information and the plane was well to the east of where it should have been. The pilots were flying in a form of white-out, with no visual cues to discern the slopes of Erebus.

The chief inspector of air accidents attributed the disaster to pilot error. But Justice Peter Mahon's Royal Commission of Inquiry disagreed. He placed the blame on Air NZ and its systems, accusing the company of misleading investigators in an "orchestrated litany of lies".

Wreckage from the fatal crash, off the southern coast of France, of an Air New Zealand plane on a test flight in November 2008.
Wreckage from the fatal crash, off the southern coast of France, of an Air New Zealand plane on a test flight in November 2008.

2008 - France

Twenty-nine years later, to the day, an Air New Zealand-owned Airbus A320-200 crashed into the Mediterranean Sea off Perpignan, France, with the death of all seven people on board.

The plane was operated by German charter firm XL Airways. It was on a test flight following maintenance and repainting into Air NZ livery before its planned return to New Zealand following a two-year lease to XL.

The dead were two XL pilots and five New Zealanders - a pilot and three engineers from Air NZ and a Civil Aviation Authority engineer.

The crew were found to have lost control of the plane after it stalled following a low-speed manoeuvre at very low altitude.

The plane had slowed to stalling speed because sensors which would have alerted the crew were not working. This was because of incorrect maintenance which had allowed the entry of water, which had frozen during the flight.

Framed images of George Hood, left, John Moncrieff and the plane in which they disappeared, held by nieces of Hood's, Sue Braggins, Elizabeth Barralet and Jocelyn Kinnell. Photo / Wairarapa Times-Age
Framed images of George Hood, left, John Moncrieff and the plane in which they disappeared, held by nieces of Hood's, Sue Braggins, Elizabeth Barralet and Jocelyn Kinnell. Photo / Wairarapa Times-Age

1928 - Tasman Sea disappearance

George Hood and John Moncrieff disappeared when they were trying to make the first transtasman flight.

They left Sydney, Australia early on January 10, 1928 in a Ryan Brougham monoplane, aiming for Trentham in Wellington. It has been estimated that their last communication would have been from about their half-way point. They were not heard from again.

The Union Airways Lockheed Electra ' Kotare ' crashed near Mangere airport in May 1938 killing the two pilots, the only people on the plane. Photo / supplied
The Union Airways Lockheed Electra ' Kotare ' crashed near Mangere airport in May 1938 killing the two pilots, the only people on the plane. Photo / supplied

1938 - Mangere

occurred on May 10, 1938 soon after one of the plane's two engines failed.

The Union Airways Lockheed Electra named Kotare made a low-level half-circle of the Mangere Aerodrome, the forerunner of Auckland Airport, before it stalled, tipped to the right and dived.

It hit a pine tree, lost its left wing, crashed into a gully and caught fire. The two crew, Cyril Mercer Duthie and John Peel, were killed. There were no passengers on the flight - only mail - which was meant to go to Palmerston North and Wellington.

An engine from the wreck of the Electra airliner Kereru that crashed in the Richmond Range between Nelson and Blenheim in 1942 with death of all five on board. Photo / Brett Halkett
An engine from the wreck of the Electra airliner Kereru that crashed in the Richmond Range between Nelson and Blenheim in 1942 with death of all five on board. Photo / Brett Halkett

1942 - Top of the south

Four years later, on May 7, 1942, another Union Airways Electra went down. Kereru crashed into the remote slopes of 1647m Johnston Peak in the Richmond Range between Nelson and Blenheim.

All five people on board were killed in the scheduled Wellington-to-Nelson flight. The plane was off course in strong winds.

Hundreds of people searched for days before the wreck was spotted from a plane. It took several more days to retrieve the bodies.

Wreckage from the crash of National Airways Corporation Electra airliner Kaka on Mt Ruapehu in 1948, with the death of all 13 people on board. Photo / Auckland Weekly News
Wreckage from the crash of National Airways Corporation Electra airliner Kaka on Mt Ruapehu in 1948, with the death of all 13 people on board. Photo / Auckland Weekly News

1948 - Mt Ruapehu

on the western side of Mt Ruapehu on October 23, 1948. All 13 people on board were killed.

On a flight from Palmerston North to Hamilton, the plane skidded on a flat section of the mountain, shot over a 40m-wide gully, and slammed into a rock wall. The air-speed indicator was found jammed at 150 miles per hour (241 km/h)

Kaka had been missing for nearly a week when it was spotted from a search plane.

An inquiry later concluded it had gone off course because of miscalculations in navigating through terrible weather.

Rescuers at the wreckage of the Lockheed Lodestar airliner Kereru following the plane's crash near Waikanae in 1949 with the death of all 15 people on board. Photo / Herald archives
Rescuers at the wreckage of the Lockheed Lodestar airliner Kereru following the plane's crash near Waikanae in 1949 with the death of all 15 people on board. Photo / Herald archives

1949 - Waikanae

The name Kereru was resurrected for an NAC Lockheed Lodestar which, on March 18, 1949 crashed near Waikanae. All 15 people on board were killed.

Kereru was on a multi-stop flight from Auckland to Dunedin and had just received its landing instructions for Paraparaumu airport 21km away when it crashed.

In low cloud, it slammed into the foothills of the Tararua Ranges. A Royal Commission of Inquiry concluded the tragedy resulted from faulty navigation.

Graham Flyger, 22, was among the 23 people, everyone on board, who died when a DC-3 airliner crashed in the Kaimai Ranges in 1963. Photo / supplied
Graham Flyger, 22, was among the 23 people, everyone on board, who died when a DC-3 airliner crashed in the Kaimai Ranges in 1963. Photo / supplied

1963 - Kaimai Range

A turbulent downdraught on the approach to Tauranga airport was the immediate cause of the plane crash that killed all 23 on board on July 3, 1963.

The NAC DC-3 had left Auckland, bound for Wellington via Tauranga, Gisborne and Napier.

During its descent into Tauranga in high winds the plane dropped in a downdraught and hit a ridge.

It took rescuers two days to locate and reach the site of the crash.

Flying too low and navigation problems were said to have contributed to the crash, but the ferocious winds were the critical factor.

1961 - November 12. A Bay of Plenty Airways Aero Commander crashed into the eastern side of Mt Ruapehu, 6 dead.

1962 - February 12. An Air Charter Dragonfly crashed in Fiordland, 5 dead.

1966 - July 4. An Air New Zealand DC-8 crashed on a training fight in Auckland, 2 dead.

1979 - February 17. An Air New Zealand Fokker Friendship crashed into the Manukau Harbour in Auckland, 2 dead.

1979 - March 19. A Cessna crashed near Turangi, 6 dead.

1982 - December 9. A helicopter crashed at Tūroa skifield on Mt Ruapehu, 5 dead.

1985 - October 4. A Cessna crashed at Tory Channel in the Marlborough Sounds, 8 dead.

1986 - January 2. A Cessna crashed near Picton, 7 dead.

1988 - May 12. A Piper plane crashed near Whanganui, 9 dead.

1989 - February 14. A Helicopter crashed at Shotover River in Otago's Lakes District, 5 dead.

1989 - August 8. A Britten-Norman Islander plane crashed near the upper Dart River in Mount Aspiring National Park, 10 dead.

1989 - December 30. Two Cessnas collided over Milford Sound, one crashed, 7 dead.

1993 - October 25. A Nomad plane crashed near Franz Josef Glacier, 9 dead.

1993 - November 26. The Police Eagle helicopter and Piper traffic spotter plane collided mid-air and both crashed to the ground, 4 dead.

1994 - October 29. A helicopter crashed near Fox Glacier, 7 dead.

1995 - March 29. A Beechcraft plane crashed near Hamilton, 6 dead.

Four of the 21 people on board an Ansett Dash 8 plane died as a result of its crashing into the Tararua Range on approach to Palmerston North Airport in 1995. Photo / Herald file
Four of the 21 people on board an Ansett Dash 8 plane died as a result of its crashing into the Tararua Range on approach to Palmerston North Airport in 1995. Photo / Herald file

1995

- June 9. An Ansett New Zealand Dash 8 crashed near Palmerston North, 4 dead.

1996 - January 29. A Cessna crashed near Picton, 5 dead.

1997 - January 3. A Cessna crashed near Queenstown, 6 dead.

1998 - August 19. A Cessna crashed in Foveaux Strait, 5 dead.

1999 - April 12. A helicopter crashed at Lake Poteriteri, Fiordland, 5 dead.

1999 - April 18. A Cessna floatplane crashed in Fiordland, 5 dead.

2000 - March 8. A helicopter crashed at Manapouri, 6 dead.

2002 - January 19. A Cessna crashed at Gertrude Saddle, Fiordland, 6 dead.

Eight people on board a Piper Chieftan died and two suffered serious injuries when the plane crashed near Christchurch Airport in 2003. Photo / Star.kiwi
Eight people on board a Piper Chieftan died and two suffered serious injuries when the plane crashed near Christchurch Airport in 2003. Photo / Star.kiwi

2003

- June 6. A Piper plane crashed near Christchurch Airport, 8 dead.

2010 - September 4. A Fletcher FU24 plane crashed at Fox Glacier, 9 dead.

2012 - January 7. A hot-air balloon crashed, Carterton, 11 dead.

2015 - November 21. A helicopter crashed onto Fox Glacier, 7 dead.

Wreckage of the helicopter crash on the Fox Glacier in which seven people died in 2015. Photo / supplied
Wreckage of the helicopter crash on the Fox Glacier in which seven people died in 2015. Photo / supplied