Qantas passengers were stuck on New Zealand’s Ohakea military base tarmac for four hours yesterday in sweltering cabin temperatures, after their flight from Melbourne to Wellington was diverted.
Qantas flight QF171, a Boeing 737, was diverted to the Ohakea RNZAF air base, 140km north of their Wellington destination this afternoon.
A Qantas spokesman said the flight was diverted due to a mechanical issue and it landed safely just after 3pm.
Passengers on the flight have reported the captain informed them the reason for the diversion was one of the plane’s flaps was stuck and the runway at Wellington was too short to land safely.
“Passengers will be transported by bus to Wellington to complete their journey,” a Qantas spokesman said.
“We apologise to our customers for the disruption but safety will always be our first priority.
“Usually in these circumstances the aircraft would divert to Palmerston North, however this was not possible due to local weather conditions.”
One passenger told Stuff “we need compensation”, saying they departed on buses to Wellington at 8.40pm, a journey expected to take two hours.
Passenger Tracy Johnson said she felt ill by the time they disembarked and that fellow passengers were close to fainting. She said she couldn’t understand why passengers hadn’t been allowed to wait in a room at the air base, rather than on the plane for hours.
“An elderly lady hugged me when we got off, she thought she was going to faint … we all did,” she told Stuff.
UK woman Lisa Blatch was on board the flight after a 40-hour journey from Gatwick Airport in London.
She was on her way to visit her sister in Wellington who is about to undergo surgery, and was waiting at Wellington airport to pick her up.
“There’s baby in arms on the plane, people with young families,” Blatch said.
“It’s been two hours now. The plane is full. They’ve only just been able to open one of the front doors to let some air in to cool people off.
“Got to say the staff have been fantastic. The last we heard was the customs may be bussed up here from Wellington but we were told that about 10 minutes ago with an ETA of 7pm.”
Shortly before 7pm it was reported by one of the passengers that Qantas was beginning to get passengers off the plane.
Earlier, during the four-hour tarmac wait, other passengers had been tweeting about the lack of customs facilities to process international passengers as the cause of their being stranded on the military tarmac.
“Awkward when your international flight gets diverted to an air base, and they can’t let you off the plane because there’s no customs,” Suzy McKinney tweeted.
“#QF171 Can’t leave plane because no customs, can’t fly plane as broken, can’t get replacement plane (easily at least) as at air base. A difficult problem to solve.”
McKinney added on Twitter that it was unclear what the mechanical issue with the plane was.
“A technical issue with the ‘flaps’ is what was cited by the captain,” she posted
Another person apparently on board the plane, Ryan Newington, posted “it’s getting very warm in here”.
Newington added Qantas attendants were refusing to open the doors of the plane and the temperature was becoming very uncomfortable.
“#QF171 sitting on the tarmac in the sun, getting extremely hot in the plane. Many passengers visibly distressed. @Qantas won’t open the door because reasons. Customs apparently driving up from Wellington (2 hours away), not sure there’s much point, we’ll all be roasted by then,” he wrote.
Another passenger added: “The crew are doing their utmost best to help and keep positive in super challenging circumstances. But two hours until we can … dunno, get customs to consider letting us out? No Wi-Fi, poor reception, and water and crackers. At least we landed somewhere!”
Another woman who contacted the Herald said they had been grounded for an hour and a half at Ohakea but no decision had been made on letting the passengers exit.
“Best guess is that we’ll have to wait a further two hours for customs to come to us,” she said.
The woman had been travelling for more than 36 hours from the United Kingdom and said the aircraft was just sitting on the tarmac.
Elsewhere, another person contacted the Herald to say their parents had been trapped on board and had been flying for around 30 hours.
The person said they were not able to contact their parents as they didn’t have New Zealand or Australian mobile phone numbers.
Their tickets were bought through Emirates, who along with Qantas, wouldn’t help the parents’ child get in touch with them.
“I got help from the person who has her sister in the plane. It was hard time, my parents were on the way to Wellington for almost 30 hours,” they said.
“Qantas hasn’t updated us for more than four hours, they just said, ‘we don’t know, you should wait’.”
This story originally appeared on the NZ Herald and is republished here with permission.