Ansett New Zealand
9 June 1995
Palmerston North Airport
| de Havilland Canada DHC-8-102|
Controlled flight into terrain
Nigeria Airways Flight 357, Azerbaijan Airlines Flight 56, 1995 Alaska Boeing E, Intercontinental de Aviación, Cameroon Airlines Flight 3701
Ansett New Zealand Flight 703 was an Ansett New Zealand scheduled passenger transport flight from Auckland Airport to Palmerston North. On 9 June 1995, the de Havilland Canada Dash 8 aircraft flying this route crashed into hilly terrain in the Tararua Ranges, 16 km east of Palmerston North airport, during an instrument approach in bad weather. The aircraft was carrying 18 passengers and three crew members. All passengers were New Zealand citizens except for one United States citizen. The flight attendant and three passengers died as a result of the crash.
Ansett New Zealand Flight 703 Wikipedia
The aircraft, registration ZK-NEY, a de Havilland Canada DHC-8 Dash 8, was manufactured in Canada.
During the approach to a right turn which would place the aircraft on final approach to runway 25, the right landing gear failed to fully extend so the co-pilot began to manually extend it using a hydraulic pump. The aircraft's power settings had already been reduced to Flight Idle which was normal, but the aircraft was inadvertently allowed to descend too low toward the undulating terrain leading into Palmerston North. The initial impact with terrain occurred at 1,272 feet (388 m) above sea level; an aircraft on profile should have been 2,650 feet (810 m) above sea level.
Although Flight 703's Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) sounded an alarm four seconds before the aircraft hit the ground, the crew was unable to avoid the accident. According to the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) report an audio alarm telling the crew to climb the aircraft should have sounded 17 seconds before impact, but the GPWS malfunctioned, for reasons which have never been determined. There was an investigation by the New Zealand Police in 2001 into whether or not a mobile phone call from the aircraft may have interfered with the system. The official crash report does mention the following on page 69:
"The aircraft manufacturer's avionics representative advised that there was no likelihood that the operation of a computer, other electronic device or a cell phone would have affected the aircraft's flight instruments."
The captain's defence was that 4.5 seconds before impact the radar altimeter display flipped 1000 feet in altitude as he watched.
Flight 703 pancaked onto a hilltop and broke up as it slid along the ground, killing the flight attendant instantly. Passenger Reginald John Dixon tried to free two others trapped near the wing root as the wreckage caught fire. He failed to free them and a flash fire critically burned him. He died from his injuries two weeks later. Thus three passengers also died and many others sustained injuries.
For his bravery in a dangerous situation, Dixon was awarded the New Zealand Cross, New Zealand's highest award for civilian bravery.
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. Radar altimeter antennas are clearly embossed with the words, "do not paint", a warning that was not heeded. Bench testing of the radar altimeter proved the unit was still functioning perfectly after its recovery from the wreckage.