updated 12/26/2008 3:23:55 PM ET 2008-12-26T20:23:55

Engineers were investigating Saturday what caused an engine to fail on an airplane forced to make an emergency landing shortly after takeoff, Air New Zealand said.

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The airplane, with 65 passengers and four crew on board, was forced back to the airport in the nation's capital, Wellington, Friday night after a bang was heard near the right engine less than a minute after it took off on a flight to the southern city of Christchurch, officials said.

The cabin began filling with smoke coming from air conditioning units immediately after the bang, passengers said.

"The engine on the right-hand side stopped. A lady there said she saw something hit it," passenger Matt Richens told the "Dominion Post" newspaper. "All conversations stopped. There was a general sense of panic."

Ane Swart, 19, said delay in telling passengers what had happened made her think the worst.

People were crying, she said. "They did tell us that everything would be OK ... but for ages they didn't tell us (what was happening)."

Air New Zealand spokeswoman Tracy Mills said the airplane's pilots saw a warning indicator light and shut down one engine. The reason for the shutdown was not yet known.

The airplane, an ATR 72-500 being operated by Mount Cook Airlines, would be inspected by engineers, she said.

The ATR 72-500 airliner is a twin-turboprop short-haul aircraft built in France and Italy by manufacturer ATR.

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