An Air New Zealand plane was forced to return to the airport shortly after departure when it was struck by lightning.
After taking off from Auckland, passengers were in the air for around 90 minutes before heading back to where they started – instead of their final destination of Rarotonga, one of the Cook Islands, reports Stuff.co.nz.
It was the second time an Air New Zealand flight has needed to turn around this week, after a damaged pilot’s windscreen led to a U-turn while a plane was miles above the Pacific Ocean on 19 June.
The country’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research said there were 60,000 lightning strikes in the Tasman Sea and near to northern New Zealand earlier this week.
Passengers received an email when they left the plane stating that they would be rebooked onto another flight but were warned that service over the next few days was “extremely limited”, said Treena Mullins, who was travelling to Rarotonga to celebrate her 50th birthday.
She told Stuff.co.nz that while she understands that lightning strikes are unpredictable, the airline has disappointed her in how they’ve handled things: “It’s just poor communication”.
Air New Zealand threw passengers “under the bus” and “couldn’t have cared less,” claimed fellow passenger Tim Johnston, who added: “[It’s up to us to fend for ourselves and find alternative accommodation and meals at our cost.”
The Independent has contacted Air New Zealand for comment.
In a statement to 1News.co.nz, a spokesman for the airline said that the plane will undergo “standard engineering checks”.
“Lightning strikes are not uncommon,” they added. “Aircraft are designed with this in mind and our pilots train for this scenario.”
Last year, a domestic Qantas flight from Perth, Australia, had to make an emergency landing at Karratha Airport – 250km (155 miles) from its destination of Port Hedland – after being caught by lightning while in the air. A Qantas spokesperson said the safety of the flight was not compromised at any point.
And in summer 2022, a Wizz Air flight from Tirana, Albania, bound for Abu Dhabi turned back after 25 minutes due to lightning strikes during its ascent.