25 years on; Ansett New Zealand Flight 703

ZK-NEU The Sister Aircraft of 703
Location Accessed

On a cold, chilly June morning in 1995, 18 passengers were in for a shock as their De Havilland Dash 8 slammed into the ground north of Palmerston North Airport, killing 4 people.

The plane took off towards Palmerston North with 18 passengers, along with 3 crew members. Flying is Captian Garry Sotheran and first officer, Barry Brown. The problems first arise on the flight when shortly before landing the right-hand side gear didn’t extend. First Officer Brown, once having confirmed via a passenger that the gear hadn’t been extended, began to manually pump the gear using a hydraulic pump. The power had been reduced to Idle and the aircraft was still on a normal Instrument approach to Runway 25, however, the aircraft slowly began to descend through 2500 feet.

In the back, the 18 passengers and 1 flight attendant are preparing for landing. The weather was wet and cloudy. Several passengers were young adults flying home or towards an onwards destination, the young flight attendant had just agreed on a date the following day, as all hell broke loose.

Just before 9:20am, on June 9th, the GPWS alert system activated to alert the Flight Crew that they were too low, the two pilots had just 4 seconds to react to the alert to avoid complete disaster. But it was too little too late, Ansett New Zealand Flight 703 slammed into the foothills of the Tararua Ranges at over 110knts. The plane pancakes, the tail sheers off and the entire fuselage rotates 180 degrees, incredibly all but 2 people survived the initial impact. However, in the ensuing Flash Fire, one passenger is critically injured and dies 12 days later.

(The accident site shortly after emergency services arrive)

Rescuers arrive almost an hour later, after encountering issues locating the aircraft. And Investigators rush to the scene, as the aircraft (ZK-NEY DHC-8-102), had been manufactured 10 years earlier, they were under pressure from the New Zealand public to assess what had gone wrong. The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAC) found, quote;

The causal factors were: the Captain not ensuring the aircraft intercepted and maintained the approach profile during the conduct of the non-precision instrument approach, the Captain’s perseverance with his decision to get the undercarriage lowered without discontinuing the instrument approach, the Captain’s distraction from the primary task of flying the aircraft safely during the First Officer’s endeavors to correct an undercarriage malfunction, the First Officer not executing a Quick Reference Handbook procedure in the correct sequence, and the shortness of the ground proximity warning system warning.

A later study of the wreckage of Flight 703 revealed that the antennas for the radar altimeter (which sends a signal to the GPWS indicating how far above the ground the aircraft is) had been painted and this possibly reduced the GPWS’ ability to provide a timely alarm, although later comments by TAIC insisted the paint did not block or reflect signals.

It is still unsure why the GPWS didn’t alert the crew 17 seconds prior to impact as standard.

Both pilots were found not guilty in the charge of Manslaughter in 2001, and Ansett New Zealand dealt with a settlement out of court to the families of the survivors and the victims.

This was the third fatal accident of a DHC aircraft

(The aircraft being delivered to Palmerston North Airport



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