Story: Air crashes
Air crashes have wide-ranging and often tragic consequences. They occur usually because of a chain of connected causes. In New Zealand many small aircraft crash. Few large planes have gone down, but when they do the losses are devastating.
Full story by Nancy Swarbrick
Main image: A wrecked Ansett Dash 8 in the Tararua Range
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Why do planes crash?
There are many reasons why planes crash. The people who build, maintain or fly aircraft can make mistakes or wrong decisions. Also, weather conditions such as fog and strong winds can make flying unsafe.
In New Zealand there are dozens of air crashes each year, mostly small planes, although only some of them have been serious enough to kill people.
Small aircraft such as top-dressing planes and helicopters are more likely to crash. Often they fly in risky conditions – low over rough countryside or in changeable weather.
The Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand sets air safety standards. They make sure that planes are built properly, that all pilots have licences, and that aircraft follow the right routes.
Early air crashes
The first fatal air accident in New Zealand was in 1899, when a hot-air balloon landed in the sea and the balloonist drowned. Between the world wars, flying displays were popular, but there were many accidents. Commercial passenger flights began in the 1930s, and in the 1940s there were some serious crashes in which people were killed.
New Zealand’s worst air crashes
In 1963 a plane was caught in strong winds and smashed into the Kaimai Range in the Bay of Plenty. Twenty-three people were killed.
In 1979 a scenic flight over Antarctica went horribly wrong when the plane flew into Mt Erebus, killing 257 passengers and crew. People still argue about why the aircraft crashed.