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'Snapped in half': Passenger breaks leg on seven-hour Air NZ flight

Author
Benjamin Plummer,
Publish Date
Fri, 19 Apr 2024, 8:18am

'Snapped in half': Passenger breaks leg on seven-hour Air NZ flight

Author
Benjamin Plummer,
Publish Date
Fri, 19 Apr 2024, 8:18am

An Air New Zealand passenger suffered a badly broken leg just 30 minutes into a seven-hour international flight after the plane hit turbulence when he was returning from the toilet. 

German-born couple Niko and Sasha, who have been living in Bali for 13 years, boarded flight NZ65 from Denpasar to Auckland on Tuesday night, having planned a three-and-a-half-week trip in New Zealand. 

But just 30 minutes into the flight, their holiday drastically changed. 

After the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner’s seatbelt light was switched off, 47-year-old Niko went to the toilet. While he was on his way back to his seat, the plane encountered turbulence and “dropped”, he said. 

A friend who was waiting to pick Niko up from Auckland Airport told the Herald his friend suffered a fractured tibia and fibula in the incident. 

“His leg pretty much snapped in half,” the friend said. 

A friend of Niko said his leg "pretty much snapped in half" during turbulence on an Air NZ passenger on a flight from Bali to Auckland.A friend of Niko said his leg "pretty much snapped in half" during turbulence on an Air NZ passenger on a flight from Bali to Auckland. 

He said Niko described the turbulence as severe and that the pilot later came out of the cockpit and apologised to passengers. 

Niko, however, endured excruciating pain for the next six-and-a-half hours while the plane continued its route to Auckland. 

“There was a doctor on board the flight but only Panadol was available to be administered,” the friend said. 

“Crew asked some passengers to move from their seats so he was able to lie down for the remainder.” 

When the plane landed, paramedics were waiting at the international terminal to treat Niko. 

A Hato Hone St John spokesperson confirmed its staff had attended an incident at the airport about 5.40am on Wednesday after a passenger suffered a turbulence-related injury. 

One person with moderate injuries was treated and transported to Middlemore Hospital, the spokesperson said. 

Air New Zealand also confirmed the incident occurred when the plane encountered “clear air turbulence”, described as sudden, severe turbulence occurring in cloudless regions that pilots are unable to see, causing violent buffeting of an aircraft. 

Chief operational integrity and safety officer Captain David Morgan said one passenger sustained an injury on flight NZ65 from Bali to Auckland that landed on Wednesday morning. 

“They were attended to by a doctor on board the aircraft. No other passenger injuries were reported to our crew.” 

Morgan said in the event of a medical incident on an international service, crew would contact Flightcare Global, Air New Zealand’s international medical support, who “provide advice and recommendations based on the information they receive”. 

“Depending on the situation, crew may put a call out to see whether there is a doctor on board. If there is a doctor available who can support the passenger, our crew will take guidance from them in conjunction with Flightcare Global.” 

Morgan added that if it was operationally viable, an aircraft would divert if Flightcare Global is “sufficiently concerned” about the individual’s immediate welfare and determines further medical attention is required immediately. 

Air New Zealand chief operational integrity and safety officer captain David Morgan.Air New Zealand chief operational integrity and safety officer captain David Morgan. 

“They will also consider factors like the level of medical care likely available to the individual in the possible diversion locations and whether it is in the individual’s best interest to continue to the intended destination,” Morgan said. 

“The safety and wellbeing of our customers and crew is our number one priority. Our crew are trained to respond to medical emergencies and always prioritise the wellbeing of the customers on board the aircraft.” 

A Counties Manukau Health spokesperson said Niko remained in a stable condition in Middlemore Hospital and was awaiting surgery. He had been waiting for surgery since he arrived at the hospital. 

The incident comes just over a month after a technical problem caused “strong movement” on Chilean airline Latam’s flight LA800 from Sydney to Auckland, prompting a major emergency response to Auckland International Airport. 

St John crews treated about 50 patients, with one patient in a serious condition and the remainder in a moderate to minor condition. 

About 50 passengers were treated for injuries last month after a Latam jet plunged mid-flight. Photo / Brett PhibbsAbout 50 passengers were treated for injuries last month after a Latam jet plunged mid-flight. Photo / Brett Phibbs 

A passenger on the Latam flight, Priscilla Waller-Subritzky, told the Herald she was watching a movie when the plane lost altitude and “a number of passengers and crew were thrown into the roof of the plane”. 

Another passenger told the Herald he had never experienced anything like it in 15 years of flying. 

“The plane dipped so dramatically into a nosedive for a couple of seconds and around 30 people hit the ceiling hard,” he said. 

Video sent to the Herald showed multiple distressed passengers holding their heads after the incident. 

It was discovered that on flight LA800, which was also a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, the pilot’s screen went blank and he momentarily lost control of the plane. An internal investigation was launched. 

A lawyer contacted by people injured in the Latam Airlines mid-air plunge said some had been offered a few thousand dollars, much less than what they could be entitled to. 

Carter Capner Law director Peter Carter said some passengers could be in line for unlimited compensation if the airline is found to be negligent. 

Carter said that under the Montreal 1999 Convention an airline is liable for up to A$260,000 ($279,000) for proven losses such as medical expenses, loss of amenities of life and income loss for proven bodily injury. This could be unlimited if the airline were found to be negligent. 

Benjamin Plummer is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. He has worked for the Herald since 2022. 

This article was originally published on the NZ Herald here. 

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