Monday, November 28, 2016

Mt Erebus Disaster: The forgotten victims

Thakur Ranjit Singh

28 November, 2018 is 39 anniversary of that biggest peacetime disaster to hit New Zealand on 28 November, 1979.[This article was first written on 28 November, 2016 on 37 anniversary, and is being republished]. But why have we forgotten all of them. In fact I found the shrine of the DC crew of the disaster, accidently. And as mooted, there is no monument to honour those 237 passengers who perished with the 20 crew.

Air New Zealand DC 10 - the type of aircraft that went down.

As a part-time school bus driver, you have the fringe-benefit and privilege to see many parts of Auckland that a normal mortal Aucklander does not get to see. Hence one day, after dropping my school charter at Butterfly Creek on Tom Pearce Drive near Auckland Airport, as usual, I proceeded on my habitual walk. I went along that street past Z Service Station, and roundabout towards aircraft viewing site, towards Puhinui Rd, facing Manukau. Something like a plaque caught my eyes, and I went down to have a look on a hidden slope of Tom Pearce Drive. I read, and was shocked to see it was a plaque in memory of crew of DC 10.

The plaque in memory of DC 10 Crew who perished in the disaster. But there is no monument to remember the 237 passengers who died in the disaster.

What a shame. I am sure many journalists and those reading this may have never have seen this. Please try to take time out to see the nondescript plaque in memory of crew of those who perished in flight TE 901.

The plaque in a hidden section of  Tom Pearce Drive at Auckland Airport
Here is for those who are new to this tragedy from Wikipedia.

Air New Zealand Flight 901 (TE-901) was a scheduled Air New Zealand Antarctic sightseeing flight that operated between 1977 and 1979. The flight would leave Auckland Airport in the morning and spend a few hours flying over the Antarctic continent, before returning to Auckland in the evening via Christchurch.

On 28 November 1979, the fourteenth flight of TE-901, a McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30, registration ZK-NZP, flew into Mount Erebus on Ross Island, Antarctica, killing all 237 passengers and 20 crew on board. The accident became known as the Mount Erebus disaster.

A part of the wreckage
Flight 901 would leave Auckland International Airport at 8:00 am for Antarctica, and arrive back at Christchurch International Airport at 7:00 pm after flying a total of 5,360 miles (8,630 km). The aircraft would make a 45-minute stop at Christchurch for refuelling and crew change, before flying the remaining 464 miles (747 km) to Auckland, arriving at 9:00 pm. Tickets for the November 1979 flights cost NZ$359 per person (equal to about NZ$1,386 in the first quarter of 2013).

While I will not delve in who was responsible for this disaster, people may Google and find volumes of theories on this. The initial investigation concluded the accident was caused by pilot error but public outcry led to the establishment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the crash. The commission, presided over by Justice Peter Mahon QC, concluded that the accident was caused by a correction made to the coordinates of the flight path the night before the disaster, coupled with a failure to inform the flight crew of the change, with the result that the aircraft, instead of being directed by computer down McMurdo Sound (as the crew assumed), was re-routed into the path of Mount Erebus. In Justice Mahon's report, he accused Air New Zealand of presenting "an orchestrated litany of lies" and this charge in the end led to changes in senior management at the airline.

The accident is New Zealand's deadliest peacetime disaster.

The tail-piece in the wreckage with Air New Zealand logo
While many mainstream Kiwi journalists have forgotten this 39th anniversary of the disaster, this recent migrated Indo-Fijian Kiwi blogger remembers those who perished. I pray that the soul of those who lost their lives rest in eternal peace.

And their loved ones may get strength to proceed with life in memory of those loved ones they lost over three and half decades ago.

And we may be thankful that at last there may be something for the lost passengers next year to mark 40th Anniversary. NZ Herald of 16 November, 2018 reported this good news:

A proposal to build the National Erebus Memorial at the celebrated Parnell Rose Gardens will be submitted to the Waitemata Local Board next week. 

Next year [2019] marks the 40th anniversary of the Erebus disaster which saw Air New Zealand flight TE901 crash into Mt Erebus in Antarctica, killing all 257 people on board.

Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage will submit the proposal and hopes it will be established at Dove-Myer Robinson Park/Taurarua Pā in early 2020.

[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a post graduate with honours in Communication Studies from Auckland University of Technology (AUT), and runs his blog site FIJI PUNDIT. He is a media commentator, and a community worker]

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