On Sunday morning Clemency and I flew home early, catching the Air New Zealand ATR72 flight to Wellington at 7:40 am. About 20 minutes out of Wellington. there was a cockpit announcement that there was a"slight problem up front" and we were diverting to Palmerston North. I thought that the fact that we weren't going on to Wellington even though we were so close might indicate that the problem wasn't all that slight, but didn't say this to Clemency. The cabin crew quickly but quite calmly scooted through the plane with a big black plastic sack relieving people of their tea and coffee and belted themselves into their little fold out chairs.

We banked sharply over Palmerston North with the plane leaping about a bit in a moderately strong wind and the pilot plonked it onto the runway. Then came a cockpit announcement I'd never heard on a plane before, "Cabin Crew to your stations". One of the stewards told us to get up quickly and calmly and follow her off the plane and for us to stand upwind of it. The little swing down door opened faster than I've ever seen before, and like a row of goslings behind Mother Goose, we followed the steward out to stand in a little huddle on the tarmac, well away from the plane. It was only then I noticed our entourage: a group of vehicles with flashing lights. There were big yellow fire trucks and the red ones from the Fire Brigade. There were police cars. After a few minutes we were led off the tarmac and into the terminal. Some of the other passengers talked about smelling smoke, faintly at first but increasingly strongly as the flight progressed.

We were put on a flight to Christchurch, another ATR, around midday. Clemency quite inexplicably gave withering looks to my light hearted banter about fires, explosions and wings falling off and ignored me completely when I asked her if she had heard that noise - that metallic ripping sound? We got home a bit later than usual but we did get home. The news reports were muted. Air New Zealand said there had been an unusual odour which caused a diversion to one of its flights. I guess it was a pretty minor incident, but it did leave me with an even greater respect for Air New Zealand. The crew were superb in making their decisions, and in emptying a full plane in what could have been, for all they knew at the time, a very dangerous situation indeed, at speed and with not one hint of panic or anxiety.


David G King said…
I remember a flight over the Pacific in a 747 where we experienced the smell of hydraulic oil. Turns out there was a leak in the hydraulics for the front landing gear. They locked it in the forward positionAfter landing we had to wait at the end of the runway for a "tug" to come get us. That was the longest trip to the terminal I've ever experienced.