New Zealand tourist plane unbalanced before crash: Report

The Fletcher FU24 plunged to the ground in September, killing nine people.

Wellington: A New Zealand tourist plane which crashed killing nine people in September was overloaded and unbalanced when the accident occurred, an official report said on Thursday.

In the nation`s worst air accident in 17 years, the Fletcher FU24 plunged to the ground and burst into flames shortly after takeoff on September 04 near Fox Glacier on the rugged west coast of New Zealand`s South Island.

The plane operated by Skydive New Zealand, was carrying a pilot, four skydive instructors and four foreign tourists. There were no survivors.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) said in an interim report that witnesses reported the plane, a single-engined converted cropduster, was almost vertical when it crashed.

They said a fine mist enveloped the plane, which had just been refuelled, before it burst into flames, the report said.

TAIC said the plane was estimated to be carrying about five kilograms more than its maximum load capacity of 2,203 kilograms during the fatal flight.

It also estimated that the distribution of passengers in the plane`s cabin meant its centre of gravity was about 75 centimetres behind the optimal position.

In the week after the crash, New Zealand`s Civil Aviation Authority issued an urgent directive limiting the maximum number of parachutists on FU24 flights to six.

The TAIC said it would examine a range of issues before releasing its final report, including regulations governing parachuting operations in New Zealand and the possibility an aircraft malfunction contributed to the accident.

The crash victims included five New Zealanders and four foreign tourists -- one each from Britain, Ireland, Germany and Australia.