Another massive earthquake in Christchurch: Airport evacuated

By John Walton, February 22 2011
Another massive earthquake in Christchurch: Airport evacuated

New Zealand's second international airport at Christchurch has been evacuated following the latest earthquake off the coast of the South Island.

Reports are coming in that all domestic flights throughout New Zealand have been affected: the national air traffic control system runs from Christchurch.

Air NZ plane landed as earthquake hit

New Zealand Labour Party opposition leader Phil Goff, evacuated from Christchurch Airport, said on Twitter, "Paintings falling down, plaster coming off of the walls, roof tiles falling down - scary stuff!"

Goff later described the scene at the airport: "We're ok - been evacuated from the airport and we're in the carpark now. Lots of upset & scared people around."

The 6.3 magnitude quake hit at 1251 local time, 10 km southeast of Christchurch, at a depth of only 5 km, according to the NZ Earthquake Commission's Geonet report, meaning its effects were magnified by being so close to the surface.

Phil Goff echoed the sentiments of many early reports coming through on Twitter: "Another big #eqnz - bigger than the first one."

Other Twitter reports said: "My mum was just landing in Chch as the earthquake struck. She saw the terminal rocking. Still stuck on the plane." (Sharde Smith)

Telephone lines to the airport and the area are down, but mobile networks -- while spotty -- still appear to be working.

Christchurch Airport is the main international airport for the South Island, home to a quarter of New Zealand's population.

Air New Zealand flies to an extensive range of New Zealand and international destinations from Christchurch. Just after 1330 local time, the airline said "Flights to CHCH are on hold for the next few hours while we hear information on the Christchurch runway & airport".

UPDATE: See our new story:
All NZ airspace closed, planes circling/diverting

International airlines serve the airport too: Qantas to Sydney; Emirates to Sydney, Bangkok and Dubai; Singapore Airlines to Singapore; Virgin Blue (as Pacific Blue) to Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney; Air Pacific to Nadi. AirAsia X plans to serve Kuala Lumpur from 1 April.

Reports are coming in of extensive damage to buildings throughout Christchurch itself. The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management has the following recommendations for those on the ground:

  • Expect aftershocks. Each time one is felt, drop, cover, and hold on. 
  • Check yourself first for injuries and get first aid if necessary before helping injured or trapped persons.
  • Assess your home or workplace for damage. If the building appears unsafe get everyone out. Use the stairs, not an elevator and when outside, watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines. Stay out of damaged areas. 
  • Look for and extinguish small fires if it is safe to do so. Fire is a significant hazard following earthquakes. 
  • Listen to the radio for updated emergency information and instructions. 
  • Do not overload phone lines with non-emergency calls.
  • Help people who require special assistance - infants, elderly people, those without transportation, families who may need additional help, people with disabilities, and the people who care for them.

Further updates

Read more comprehensive coverage of the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake, plus authoritative advice for travellers in the area and overseas.

Further updates will be posted at and on our @AusBT Twitter stream.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

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