New Zealand's Prime Minister in air scare

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The Independent Online

New Zealand's Prime Minister, Helen Clark, had a narrow escape yesterday when the door of her plane flew open in mid-flight, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing that left the leader bruised but otherwise unharmed.

New Zealand's Prime Minister, Helen Clark, had a narrow escape yesterday when the door of her plane flew open in mid-flight, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing that left the leader bruised but otherwise unharmed.

Two police officers on the six-seater Piper Aztec grabbed the door and struggled to hold it as air rushed into the cabin, and the plane rapidly lost altitude. Ms Clark, 55, said afterwards: "What goes through your head is ... are you going to live or die, or will the plane land safely? Yes, it was shocking. It was really quite shaky for us." She said she knew her life was in danger when the door blew open after the twin-engine aircraft hit turbulence. As the plane dived sharply, her arm smashed into a metal bulkhead. An X-ray showed no fracture but her spokesman said it was badly bruised.

Ms Clark, accompanied by her press secretary and the two police officers, was flying from the tourist town of Rotorua to the capital, Wellington. The plane came down at an airstrip in Paraparaumu, a small town north of Wellington.

She told New Zealand National Radio that the passengers were unable to shut the door. The two officers "were strong enough to hold the door during the landing", she said. "I think everyone's probably a little shaky, but they performed superbly. It was worrying for a moment or two." Her press secretary, Kathryn Street, said there was a "great bang" when the door opened and "there were papers flying everywhere" in the cabin.

Ms Clark took the early morning charter flight so she could return to Wellington before the commercial flights. She often uses air force and private charter flights to get around as well as scheduled airlines.

The Mountain Air charter company said it was investigating the accident, as was the country's Transport Accident Investigation Commission.

Ms Clark has been Prime Minister since 1999, and faces a general election before the end of September. Her ruling Labour Party has a 13 per cent lead in the polls.

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