Air New Zealand yesterday was mourning the expected loss of four staff after one of its Airbus A320 aircraft crashed during a test flight in the south of France.
French authorities said two bodies had been recovered and five people were missing and believed dead after the plane crashed into the Mediterranean Sea near the southern city of Perpignan on Thursday.
The aircraft had been leased to charter firm XL Airways since 2006 and two of the German airline’s pilots had been flying the aircraft in the test flight before its scheduled return to Air New Zealand.
Hundreds of shocked Air New Zealand staff gathered at the airline’s headquarters in Auckland where they were told it was unlikely any of those on board had survived.
An Air New Zealand pilot and three engineers were among five New Zealanders on board as observers during the flight ahead of the return of the Airbus to Air New Zealand.
The Air New Zealand pilot is Captain Brian Horrell, 52, and the three engineers are Murray White, 37, and Michael Gyles, 49 and Noel Marsh, 35.
The fifth New Zealander on the flight was Civil Aviation Authority official Jeremy Cook.
Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe was due to fly to France later yesterday, along with family members of at least one of the airline’s staff on the crashed plane.
He said he had been told by the leader of the French search and rescue team there was little optimism any survivors would be found.
Witness reports suggested the aircraft was relatively low in the sky just before the crash, as it prepared to land in Perpignan, he said.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said a New Zealand air accident investigator was traveling to France to observe the inquiry into the crash.
“I think I speak for all New Zealanders when I say this is a great tragedy. We’ll work with Air New Zealand and the families to help in any way that is appropriate,” Key told reporters.
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