Passengers in fear as fire shuts down Virgin engine

Flames seen coming from the engines of flight VA148 soon after takeoff

Source: X/Vani Mehrotra

A Melbourne-bound Virgin flight has been forced to make an emergency landing when fire shut down one of the plane’s engines shortly after takeoff in New Zealand.

The terrifying incident is believed to have been caused by a bird strike shortly after Virgin Australia flight VA148 left Queenstown Airport about 6pm Monday (local time).

Frightened passengers could see the engine in flames before the Boeing 737-800 diverted to Invercargill, in southern NZ.

Fire engines met the plane as it landed about 50 minutes after takeoff, Fire and Emergency New Zealand shift supervisor Lynn Crosson said.

One passenger told Sunrise he got a “hell of a shock” to see flames while the flight was in the air.

Passengers heard a “bang” and looked out the window to see the engine was on fire.

“It was quite scary,” he said.

“I’ve never heard anything like it before. Every few seconds you could see flames coming from the engine. I am thankful it’s landed safely.”

The engine was ‘spitting flames’ from takeoff. Photo: Supplied

Another passenger, Michael Hayward, told the ABC he was sitting just behind the wing and heard several bangs.

“I’m as close to the engine as you can probably get on an aeroplane, sat on the exhaust. That first bang was not quite into shock but it was like, hmm, that’s not right, what’s going on there,” he said.

He said the plane was “spitting flames” within seconds of leaving the tarmac in Queenstown.

“It’s certainly out of the ordinary. It’s unusual and at this point, it’s also out of your control. So quite the dramatic takeoff yesterday.”

He told the ABC passengers panicked at first, but then began to settle down for the reminder of the flight.

“Honestly, the last half hour of that flight, you probably didn’t realise there was a problem.”

The cause of the engine fire and the number of passengers on board the plane were not immediately known, Queenstown Airport spokesperson Catherine Nind said.

Virgin Australia chief operations officer Stuart Aggs said the incident may have been caused by “a possible bird strike”. Later, media reported the rare incident might have involved a flock of birds.

“At this time, we are not aware of any physical injuries to guests or crew,” Aggs said.

Passengers were to be accommodated in Invercargill overnight and new flights would be arranged, Aggs said.

The rate of birds striking planes at New Zealand’s airports is about four in every 10,000 aircraft movements, NZ’s aviation regulator says on its website.

The consequences vary in severity depending on where the aircraft is hit, the size of the birds and the pilot’s reaction, the Civil Aviation Authority says.


Queenstown, with a population of 53,000, is a popular tourist destination on NZ’s South Island, famous for skiing, adventure tourism and alpine vistas.

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