Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully is "enormously
relieved'' he's alive after a white-out landing in Antarctica.
The Air Force Boeing 757 was forced to circle for two hours
to burn off fuel before attempting to land in bad weather on
Monday night NZT.
Speaking about the experience today, Mr McCully said it was
"It was not a very good situation to be in,'' he said, saying
that the plane did not have enough fuel on board to make it
back to New Zealand, but weather conditions were so bad a
normal landing was not possible.
"We clearly knew that there was a capacity for this to have
quite an untidy end, and we were enormously relieved that it
"It culminated in what they call a white-out landing. After
burning out most of the fuel you get in as close as you can
with the instruments and for the last 100ft or so try and
find a way down with the pilot using his wits, basically.''
The skills of the pilot were "tested in a very significant
"For my own part, I'm just relieved to be back, and I think
I'll go and buy a Lotto ticket,'' Mr McCully said.
The plane experienced further mechanical problems on the US
maintained airfield Pegasus from sitting on the ice for too
long, which caused some of the instruments to freeze.
Mr McCully said information given to the pilot about the
weather and landing conditions at the base "was not accurate
by the time we got down there''.
While he assured it was not a "stuff up", he said the Air
Force will examine whether the information on which the crew
made the decision to keep flying was up-to-date, or whether
the conditions in Antarctica changed more "dramatically than
anyone could reasonably have expected''.
"There will be some sort of internal inquiry I'm sure about
how one of their [Air Force] planes, with quite a lot of
people on board, was able to get into Antarctica without the
ability to get back or to land,'' he said.
The plane was carrying 117 passengers, including 94 personnel
supporting the US Antarctic Programme, 16 Antarctica New
Zealand passengers, and seven NZ Defence Force personnel, as
well as 11 crew.
- By Patrice Dougan of APNZ