Queenstown eyewitnesses have recalled surprise at seeing a Pacific Blue plane “power-off” and fly under low cloud after take-off.
Queenstown District Court yesterday heard from three locals who separately viewed the Sydney-bound Boeing 737-800 flight from Frankton on June 22, 2010.
Robert Clark, a former Queenstown mechanic, saw the take-off as he was driving home up Andrews Road, off Frankton Rd.
“I saw the aircraft pass by at what appeared to be the same altitude to what I was at. I couldn’t see the whole aircraft but the underneath and a bit of the cockpit. It appeared to be very low.”
That evening, St John Ambulance administrator Lynn Cain was outside having a cigarette at home on Douglas Street when she saw the Pacific Blue plane depart Queenstown Airport.
“I watched the plane come up and to me it seemed to power off a little bit. Normally, I’m used to seeing planes going up but this one powered off and stayed under the cloud,” she says.
“Initially my first thought was that they were really pushing it to get out of town at that time of night.”
Local Max Perkins saw it from Kawarau Rd just past the airport runway.
“I saw it climb in a normal profile. It reached the cloud base and then levelled off under the cloud base.”
The Pacific Blue pilot, a 54-year-old Auckland man, faces a charge of operating his aircraft in a careless manner when he flew out in extremely low cloud and strong winds at 5.25pm.
The Civil Aviation Authority alleges the pilot – who has interim name suppression – shouldn’t have taken off after 5.14pm that day because departures must be at least 30 minutes before twilight.
The aircraft was not fitted with blind-flying technology called RNP, or required navigation performance.
The defended hearing continues today and is expected to finish next week. The court will hear accounts from terrified passengers on the plane, as well as watch an in-flight video.