• Kyodo News

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A government plane that took a quake rescue team to New Zealand will leave Wednesday and return home Thursday, but relatives of the Japan victims of the temblor there who are now in the disaster zone will not be aboard the plane as initially offered.

The government plane, a Boeing 747, was used to transport the Japanese disaster relief team to help in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Christchurch last week. On Friday, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara apologized to the relatives because he had to renege on his promise to let them fly to New Zealand on the government jet.

A government source said the original plan for the kin of the victims to also return to Japan via the government plane was canceled because the aircraft could not accommodate all of them, as was the case in the outbound flight.

About 60 members of the disaster relief team are scheduled to return home aboard the plane Thursday. They will be replaced by a second, smaller disaster-relief team of 30.

In Christchurch on Wednesday, 69 family members of the missing Japanese visited the site of the collapsed Canterbury TV building where a number of students are feared to have been trapped following the quake.

The family members, along with kin of missing people from other countries, visited the site in three buses. But no one was allowed to get off due to safety concerns. The relatives offered prayers from inside the buses that stopped there for only a few minutes each, according to city officials.

Japanese disaster relief team members, who were engaged in search and rescue activities at the site, came near when buses arrived, and offered silent prayers.

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