Flight makes emergency landing in New Zealand after engine fire due to ‘possible bird strike’

A Melbourne-bound passenger flight made an emergency landing at a New Zealand airport after a fire shut down one of its engines.

The Virgin Australia aircraft 737-800 with 67 passengers and six crew members on board landed in the New Zealand city of Invercargill shortly after departing from Queenstown airport at 5.50pm local time on Monday.

The flight was diverted to Invercargill, nearly 200km from Queenstown, after one of the engines caught fire due to a "possible bird strike", the airline’s chief operations officer, Stuart Aggs, said.

“At this time, we are not aware of any physical injuries to guests or crew,” the officer said. The passengers would be accommodated in Invercargill overnight and new flights would be arranged, he added.

One of the witnesses, who shared the footage of the incident, said the plane was “sputtering out” as it departed.

“It sounded like it was coming apart over our house. One engine was throwing flames and sputtering out,” the witness was quoted by News.Com.Au as saying.

Another Queenstown local said the plane "just passed our house with terrible sound and fire. Please pray for the plane and people inside, their safety".

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

The rate of birds striking planes at New Zealand’s airports is about four in every 10,000 aircraft movements, according to the country's aviation regulator.

However, the consequences vary in severity depending on where the aircraft is hit, the size of the birds and the pilot’s reaction.

The flight incident took place just a day after New Zealand prime minister Christopher Luxon was forced to take a commercial flight to Japan after a defence plane broke down. The Boeing 757 reportedly broke down during a refuelling stop in Papua New Guinea, which left the delegation and journalist onboard stranded in Port Moresby.

The prime minister left for Japan shortly after on a commercial flight.

In March, at least 50 people were injured when a LATAM Airlines LA800 flight travelling from Sydney to Auckland experienced a sudden drop in altitude due to a “strong shake” of turbulence.

The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner later landed at Auckland airport as scheduled and was due to continue on to Santiago, Chile.