A man thought a Pacific Blue plane was going to clip trees as it flew low after takeoff from Queenstown Airport outside of permitted flying hours.
Witness Alan Kirker gave evidence on Thursday at a defended hearing in Queenstown District Court for a 54-year-old pilot from Papakura, who is charged with operating a Boeing 737 in a careless manner on a flight to Sydney in June 2010.
The Civil Aviation Authority laid the charge, which carries a maximum fine of $7000.
The flight was meant to leave at 4.30pm but did not take off, until 5.25pm – 20 minutes before official twilight – in poor weather and near darkness.
The cut-off point for flights from Queenstown Airport was meant to be 30 minutes before twilight.
Mr Kirker told the court he was concerned the plane was going to crash, The Press reports.
As a skipper whose vessel is on a list of standby rescue boats, his first thought was how quickly he could launch his boat on Lake Wakatipu.
“It got to the Kelvin peninsula, banked very heavily, maybe a 45-degree bank … I was afraid it was going to clip the trees,” he said.
Mr Kirker also spoke of the poor weather as the plane took off, with snow hitting his house “probably a couple of minutes after”.
One of the flight’s passengers, Simon Christie, told the court the takeoff was bumpy for up to a minute, then the plane “seemed to drop”.
“Maybe we weren’t going to make it too far. It seemed to be a steep climb for a few minutes. Once we broke through the clouds everything was fine.”
The pilot’s defence says he took the correct actions, and if he did breach requirements, his actions fell short of carelessness.