Monday, December 7, 2009

Erebus tragedy etched onto Kiwi psyche

Three decades before this week, New Zealand was a mass of tears.

The country suffered its most horrible air tragedy ever when, on November 28, 1979, an Air New Zealand plane on a tourism flight over Antarctica slammed into Mount Erebus, killing all 257 on board.

The DC10 ploughed into the snow-covered slopes in whiteout conditions that made even the 3,600m ton invisible.

Toll-wise, it was numerous notches above Australia's worst air crash, a US plane that went down at Bakers Creek, northern Queensland in June 1943, killing 40 soldiers.

And given New Zealand's 1970s inhabitants of just three million, it's not astonishing almost each one knew someone who was on the Erebus flight, or at least knew someone who knew someone on the doomed jet.

Two hundred Kiwis, 24 Japanese, 22 Americans, six Britons, two Canadians, one Australian, one French and one Swiss were departed.

The national grieving was overwhelming but the tremendous sadness was soon replaced with bitter anger as the country's nationwide carrier fumbled in its dealings with victims and the public.

No counselling was offered and Air New Zealand was quick to responsibility its pilot Jim Collins and his squad even though it was soon revealed they weren't at fault.

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