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Airbus A320 with seven on board crashes into Mediterranean sea

A file photo of Air New Zealand's first A320 touching down in Auckland in September 2003. The photo was released by Airbus on Thursday.

PARIS (BNS): An Air New Zealand Ltd Airbus SAS A320 jet with seven people on board a training flight from southern French city Perpignan to Frankfurt, crashed into the Mediterranean Sea on Thursday.

An official at the Maritime Prefecture in Toulon, France, said the Airbus crashed about 1700 hrs local time (4 pm GMT). Though there were no immediate reports of survivors, the French navy vessels and a helicopter have been pressed into service. Floating debris has been located.

Dominique Alzeari, assistant prosecutor of Perpignan, reported that two bodies had been recovered from the crash site. “The plane was at Perpignan being repainted in Air New Zealand colours prior to the handover on December 1. The Air New Zealand staff was in France to collect the jetliner”, he added.

Airbus has confirmed that the crashed jet was owned by Air New Zealand and operated by XL Airways Germany. On Thursday, it was flying to Frankfurt where it was due to be handed over for a return flight to New Zealand after the completion of a two-year lease, the Auckland-based airline said.

Five engineers from the Airbus are on their way to the area to assist authorities in the investigations."The three-year-old twin-engine plane was on a local, technical flight from Perpignan when it crashed, and had accumulated about 7,000 flying hours," Airbus said.

Addressing the media, Chief Executive Officer Rob Fyfe said four Air New Zealand personnel were aboard the aircraft -- a senior captain, two engineers based in Christchurch and an engineer from Auckland.

"This is a very difficult time as we await information on the situation," he said, adding that two pilots from XL Airways and an official from New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority were also aboard the aircraft.

"The role of our team was to observe the performance of the aircraft and validate that it met Air New Zealand operating standards and return-from-lease requirements. All the ground checks and maintenance had been completed and it was on an acceptance flight," Fyfe said.

The accident occurred just a day before the 29th anniversary of the Mount Erebus disaster in 1979 when an Air New Zealand McConnell Douglas DC-10 sight-seeing flight over Antarctica crashed and killed all 257 passengers and crew onboard.

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