Mount Erebus disaster: The plane crash that changed New Zealand


New Zealand : It remains New Zealand’s worst peacetime disaster. On 28 November 1979, a sightseeing aircraft carrying 257 people crashed head-on into the side of a volcano in Antarctica.

The tragedy of flight TE901 was a shock for New Zealand, affecting almost everyone in the country in some way, and led to years of investigations and a bitter blame game.

And the legacy of the Mt Erebus disaster is still felt 40 years on.

How did the plane crash?

Air New Zealand had started operating scenic flights over Antarctica only two years before, and they had been a great success.

What better way to spend a day than to cruise on an 11-hour non-stop round trip from Auckland down the length of the country and on to the great southern continent? The flights offered first class luxury and a stunning view over the endless ice at the edge of the world.

But on that day in 1979, things would go very wrong.

At around noon, the pilot Capt Jim Collins flew two large loops through the clouds to bring the plane down to about 2,000ft (610m) and offer his passengers a better view. Assuming he was on the same flight path as previous flights and over the vast McMurdo Sound, he wouldn’t have foreseen any problems.

On board the DC 10, people were busy taking photographs or filming in the cabin and out of the windows. Many of these photos were later found in the wreckage and could still be developed, some of them taken seconds before the crash.