Airbus A320 crashes off French coast, 7 missing or dead

Thursday, November 27, 2008

An Airbus A320 airliner owned by Air New Zealand crashed into the Mediterranean Sea near Perpignan, killing at least two of a crew of seven, French officials reported on Thursday.

The aircraft believed involved in the accident, seen here as operated by XL Airways with registration D-AXLA

The aircraft crashed at about 5 p.m. local time (1600 UTC) during a test flight. The twin-engine jet airliner had just undergone maintenance at Perpignan in preparation for its return to Air New Zealand by German airline XL Airways, which had been operating it on lease.

The seven on board included two XL Airways crew, Civil Aviation Authority inspector Jeremy Cook of Wellington, and four Air New Zealand personnel. Air New Zealand has identified involved personnel as Captain Brian Horrell and Murray White of Auckland, and Michael Gyles and Noel Marsh of Christchurch. No additional passengers were on board for the flight, which was part of a maintenance test procedure. At least two bodies have been recovered. Though rescue efforts persisted into the night, there is no hope of the remaining five crew members being found alive, according to French officials.

The cause of the crash is not yet clear. The pilots may have attempted an emergency landing on water. Efforts are underway to recover the aircraft's black box. French, German, and New Zealand aviation authorities and investigators have been dispatched to the site to investigate the incident. Manufacturer Airbus, based in Toulouse, will aid the investigation, Airbus spokespersons stated.

A Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson stated that the incident does not cast any doubt on the airworthiness of the A320 design, a popular aircraft which has been involved in only ten fatal accidents since its introduction in 1987. Air New Zealand's fleet includes 13 A320s.