Plane crash had no survivors

Riley Riley

It was on this day almost 40 years ago that an Air New Zealand Flight 901 crashed in Antarctica killing all 257 people aboard.

It’s the worst plane crash in New Zealand history and one of the worst air disasters in the world.

To put the crash in context, Antarctica became popular as a tourist destination in the 1970s – but it was a difficult place to get to.

So they began to organise day trips from New Zealand that gave people a taste of Antarctica from the air, with amazing views of the Ross Ice Shelf.

However, the trips were not without hazard because the vast ice plains provide virtually no visual reference points for pilots.

Magnetic compasses are also next useless so close to the South Pole.

The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 that carried 20 crew and 237 passengers to Antarctica on November 28, 1979 was piloted by five officers who had no experience flying to the icy continent.

As the plane headed over the Ross Ice Shelf, the pilot decided to drop below the clouds to give the passengers a better view.

He was supposed to stay above 1800 metres at all times, but the descent took the plane as low as 150 metres.

It came right as the plane was approaching Mount Erebus, a 3793 metre high volcano.

The DC-10 ploughed into the side of the mountain travelling at more than 480km/h.

Everyone on board was killed and it was a disaster of unthinkable proportions.

The initial investigation concluded the accident was caused by pilot error, but a Royal Commission was established following public outcry.

Presided over by Justice Peter Mahon QC, the inquiry concluded the accident was caused by a correction made to the co-ordinates of the flight path the night before the disaster, coupled with a failure to inform the flight crew of the change.

As a result that the aircraft, instead of being directed by computer down McMurdo Sound (as the crew had been led to believe), was instead re-routed into the path of Mount Erebus.

You’d think, after this, they would have put a stop to Antarctic sight-seeing flights, but they still run today.


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