Passengers screamed and reached for air sickness bags as planes twisted, rose and plunged on approach to New Zealand’s Wellington Airport during violent winds that neared hurricane force on Friday.
Wind gusts at the airport reached 115 km/h. “Hurricane force”, as defined by the international Beaufort Scale, begins at 118 km/h.
A frequent flyer passenger on Air New Zealand flight NZ411 from Auckland to Wellington told Wellington’s Dominion Post newspaper it was “the worst flight I have ever been on”. The flight eventually had to turn back to Auckland.
A Jetstar flight from the Gold Coast encountered similar conditions before diverting to Christchurch, where passengers were accommodated in hotels overnight and given meal vouchers before being put on a special flight to Wellington on Saturday.
Brisbane resident Jo Connolly, who was on the Jetstar flight, told the paper: “It was the worst I’ve ever had. I’ve flown out of Wellington hundreds of times and never had it like that before.
“I had that little moment when I didn’t know if we were going to make it.”
New Zealand’s capital is famous for its brisk winds but Friday was exceptional even by Wellingtonian standards. Flights in and out of the city were cancelled and one lane of the main highway leading to the airport had to be closed when the quirky Zephyrometer wind needle sculpture threatened to blow into traffic.
The violent lurches of jets landing at Wellington Airport, sometimes making pilots abandon the landing at the last moment and go around for another try, make for entertaining viewing.
Pilots are used to it but for passengers aboard the planes, it all seems much more extreme.
“It was a nightmare … knuckles were clenched, but it was the noise of the plane that was so scary,” passenger Eleni Kanelos, who was aboard the Air New Zealand flight, told the Dominion Post.
Her husband said he had to “pick her fingernails out of his thighs” as the plane bounced up and down, plunged wildly and lurched from side to side. Finally, the pilot abandoned the attempt and headed back to Auckland.
Even veteran cabin crew were alarmed as passengers began screaming as the plane approached the runway, the paper said.
Written by Peter Needham