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National Memorial Proposed for Mt. Erebus Air Accident

Tuesday 1 November 2016

National Memorial Proposed for Mt. Erebus Air Accident

Important initiatives are being taken to plan for a national memorial for the 257 people who died in the 1979 Mt. Erebus air accident of Air New Zealand McDonnell Douglas DC-10 ZK-NZP, Flight TE901. The national memorial, planned to be ready for the 40th anniversary in November 2019, will be a special place for families affected by the tragedy, and for New Zealand to remember the accident.

A voluntary advisory group, with Lady June Hillary as Patron, is advocating for the new national memorial. See the new website for more information:

There is presently no public memorial to the Erebus accident where all 257 names are listed together. The airliner crash is still New Zealand’s worst peacetime accident.

National memorial spokesperson, aviation chaplain and historian, Rev. Dr Richard Waugh QSM, of Auckland, reports that the 40th anniversary in November 2019 will be a very suitable time for the opening of a new national memorial.

Dr Waugh says, “The Mt Erebus accident with 257 fatalities - 237 passengers and 20 crew - is still New Zealand’s worst civil disaster. At the time it was the world’s fourth worst aviation accident. New Zealand as a nation continues to be profoundly affected by the tragedy and it is a pastoral and public oversight that nothing has yet been done to establish a national memorial to the Mt. Erebus accident victims, especially for the many families involved.”

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Older New Zealanders will remember where they were on the evening of 28th November 1979 when the news came through that an Air New Zealand Douglas DC-10 was missing on a scenic flight in Antarctica. Memories come to mind of the early speculative news reports, updates about the fuel running out, the grim waiting, and then the first chilling images; the black smudge on the uphill slope, the impact imprint of the wide body jet on the ice, the burnt-out wreckage in millions of pieces, the heavy undercarriage assembly tossed aside and the dirtied Koru symbol still visible on the smashed tail assembly.

The tragic accident on Mt. Erebus generated an air accident report, a Royal Commission of Inquiry, countless newspapers stories and articles, many books, and television documentaries.

Dr Waugh comments neither he nor advisory group members have any intention to refer to or discuss the cause(s) of the accident, and that no location for the national memorial or funding plan has yet been decided while early consultations are taking place. The advisory group comments, “It is now time to put the controversy of the accident to one side, and focus on a national memorial to those who died; a special place for families and for all New Zealanders to remember.”

In many ways it is a glaring omission that no national memorial has been mooted until now, as many other more recent disasters have their own national memorials, including for the Pike River Mine accident and the Christchurch earthquake victims.

There are a number of smaller Erebus memorials; a commemorative cross and sculpture at Scott Base, Antarctica; designation of the crash site as an Antarctic Specially Protected Area; a memorial and garden of remembrance at Auckland’s Waikumete Cemetery for the 16 passengers who were unidentified and the 28 passengers who were never found; a nearby cherry tree and plaque for the 24 Japanese passengers; a plaque memorial to the crew members at Auckland International Airport; a memorial window at St Stephens Anglican Church in Whangaparoa, a memorial bench at the Lower Hutt Rose Garden; a memorial window and book of remembrance at Auckland’s St Matthew-in-the-City Church; and a sculpture at Air New Zealand’s Auckland headquarters.

Dr Waugh comments, “There are several smaller memorials, mainly in Auckland, but there is no significant place where all 257 names are publically remembered together; where people can gather to have special times of contemplation, prayer and reflection. Such a place is much needed.”

“Surviving spouses, siblings, and children of the victims are aging and many are asking for a national memorial to the accident, in time for the 40th anniversary. While some people have suggested we wait until the 50th anniversary in 2029, our advisory committee’s view is that waiting longer would be uncaring and insensitive to so many older relatives.”

“Our advisory group is in touch with many surviving spouses and siblings and other close family, who are now in their 70s and 80s, and who would very much like to have a proper national memorial to the air accident. Such a national memorial will be a sacred set-apart place where families and others can gather on special remembering occasions.”

Considering the magnitude of the Mt. Erebus accident, with 257 fatalities, the number of close family is in the hundreds. With grandchildren and wider family and friends, thousands of New Zealanders, and others from overseas have direct links to the accident. Fifty eight passengers came from overseas: Australia (2), Canada (2), France (1), Japan (24), Switzerland (2), United Kingdom (5) and the United States (22).

The advisory group is in consultation with many families of those who died, the Government (Ministry for Culture & Heritage), Air New Zealand, and a variety of other organisations. The advisory group is aware that planning and fundraising needs to progress as soon as possible, if the national memorial is to be ready for the 40th anniversary in November 2019.

As well as extensive research and publishing on the history of New Zealand airlines ( Dr Waugh, in his capacity as an aviation chaplain, has had considerable experience with air accident memorials and anniversary services. From 1994 to 2011 he was involved, with other historians, including Graeme McConnell of Nelson and Peter Layne of Tauranga, and other volunteers, organising permanent plaque memorials for the nine airliner accidents that occurred around New Zealand during the pioneering years from the late 1930s to the early 1960s. This involved contacting the families of the 73 people who died in the accidents, fundraising for the plaques, and organising the memorial services. The largest gatherings were for the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the Kaimai Range National Airways Corporation (NAC) DC-3 accident, which occurred on 3 July 1963 with the loss of 23 people (3 crew and 20 passengers) - still the worst aviation accident on New Zealand soil.

Dr Waugh says, “At such services the families and community really came together in a special way. My colleagues and I were pleased to organise memorials for those who died in these pioneering airliner accidents. The 73 deaths were part of the human cost of the development of safe domestic airlines in New Zealand and each person’s name is now on a public memorial. Our experiences with the Kaimai accident anniversaries was that for the 40th anniversary service and dedication of the national memorial near Matamata in 2003, many close family members were able to gather and participate. But by the time of the 50th anniversary in 2013, numbers had thinned considerably. It tells us that for the Mt. Erebus accident it is imperative that the national memorial is ready for the 40th anniversary. We should not wait any longer.”

The New Zealand Airline Pilots Association maintains a significant website about the Mt. Erebus accident, including a ‘Roll of Remembrance’ listing all the crew and passengers on the flight and with some public comments by relatives. See:

Dr Waugh and the advisory group encourages interested people to do two things:

1) Register interest about the national memorial on the newly created website. Relatives of those who died in the Mt. Erebus accident are encouraged to identify themselves for the purpose of regular communication updates. See:

2) Email Hon. Maggie Barry ONZM, Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage – - or write to her at Private Bag 18041, Parliament Buildings, Wellington 6160 (and copy to Erebus National Memorial on the website or write to PO Box 82-363 Highland Park, Auckland 2143), supporting the concept of a national memorial. Dr Waugh says, “It is helpful for our Government to know just how important the Mt. Erebus national memorial is to a wide cross-section of New Zealanders.”


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