NZ971 was operating from Tonga's Fuaʻamotu International Airport (TBU) on January 27, headed for Auckland International Airport (AKL). As extensive flooding and damage paused operations at New Zealand's largest airport, the aircraft made an unexpected detour to Christchurch International Airport (CHC).
NZ971 was one of the nine diverted flights sent to Christchurch following the closure of Auckland Airport, where over 1,500 passengers from the stranded flights looked for accommodation. One of Christchurch's Methodist Churches stepped up and organized twenty camp beds and blankets for stranded passengers, with blankets and food donated by Pacific Health.
The local Tongan Community hub also requested locals to donate food or volunteer at the center or international airport to help the passengers.
Paea Fifita, who helps run the Christchurch Tongan Community Hub, didn't understand the extent of the flooding or the diversions until he reached the airport.
Noting that four other flights had arrived at the same time as the flight from Tonga, Paea was waiting at the airport until 04:30 in the morning when his family finally appeared from immigration.