The family and friends of the New Zealanders lost in the A320 accident in France have started the process of travelling home to be reunited with loved ones.
Air New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Rob Fyfe says that our latest advice from French Authorities indicates that the identification of the first two bodies found is unlikely to be achieved until sometime next week. It will then take some days for the bodies to be released back to the families concerned. Other remains recovered may not be able to be identified and returned to families until sometime well into the following week at the earliest, and the search for further bodies continues.
"This is an agonising wait, and while there is a strong sense of family and community amongst the small New Zealand contingent here in Perpignan - the uncertainty over time frames and the dislocation from family members back home is taking its toll, so the 21 family and friends here in Perpignan have decided to return home to reunite with their loved ones and await advice from the identification process.
"Over the past couple of days it became clear to us all that the opportunity to bring our lost men home may be some time off as the French authorities continue with the painstaking recovery and body identification tasks. This is certainly a difficult time and all the families here have people at home who are also struggling therefore we collectively made the decision that it was time to return to New Zealand so people can be reunited with family and friends," Mr Fyfe says.
"The first of the families left Perpignan on Friday and the last will leave on Monday. Each family has been going through its own grieving process as they come to terms with their tragic loss. Many of the families have spent the past few days visiting the workplace and hotels where our men were based in Perpignan, meeting with friends and work colleagues who they interacted with while here, as well as seeing some of the sights they had heard about from their loved ones. It has been an incredibly moving time for both the families and the Air New Zealand support team."
Mr Fyfe says Air New Zealand has nothing but admiration for the French authorities involved in the Search and Rescue and Victim Identification processes and has thanked them for the professionalism and compassion that they have consistently displayed.
"The search and recovery team and investigators have done everything possible in this operation and we will forever be grateful. Their professionalism and attention to detail has been simply outstanding. Combine that with the incredible support and professionalism of the two New Zealand Police specialists and our Embassy staff and we could not have asked for more in this difficult time. These sentiments have been expressed on many occasions by representatives of each of the families, who I know leave Perpignan with a greater understanding of the role the city played in the lives of their men and in no doubt that everything is being done to as quickly as possible conclude the identification process and investigation."
Mr Fyfe, who will depart for New Zealand on Monday (UK time) with some of the families, says a senior New Zealand presence will remain in Perpignan during the next phase of the investigation.
"One of my team has arrived in Perpignan to takeover leadership of our presence in the investigation after my departure and will be supported by two technical specialists and our General Manager for Europe. The two New Zealand Police representatives are also remaining to continue their excellent work with their French colleagues."
Issued by Air New Zealand Public Affairs
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