28 Nov 2009

Air NZ renews apologies for Erebus crash

10:25 pm on 28 November 2009

Services were held in New Zealand, Antarctica and France on Saturday to commemorate two black days in the national carrier's history.

All 257 passengers and crew on board the Air New Zealand DC-10 sightseeing flight perished when it crashed into the side of Mt Erebus in Antarctica 30 years ago on Saturday.

Memorial services were held at Scott Base, at Air New Zealand's headquarters in Auckland and the company's operations base in Christchurch.

It is also the anniversary of last year's Air New Zealand Airbus crash in the Mediterranean Sea near Perpignan in southern France, which killed seven people.

Air New Zealand again apologised to the families of those killed in the Erebus aircrash; some relatives say the Government should also acknowledge mistakes made in its handling of the crash.

The Acting Prime Minister Bill English has admitted the Muldoon government's actions were flawed.

More than 500 family, friends and colleagues of victims gathered in Auckland, where the Acting Prime Minister, Bill English, who gave the reading, said the government of the day should have attended to the needs of the families of the Erebus victims.

He said that needed to be acknowledged today.

Another 300 people attended a memorial service at the Air New Zealand operations base at Christchurch Airport and a service was also held at Waikumete Cemetery in West Auckland, where the remains of more than 40 of the 257 victims are in a mass grave.

Govt should set record straight - relative

Katherine Carter, daughter of pilot Captain Jim Collins, was among those saying the Government should look into the actions of the then administration, led by Sir Robert Muldoon, and set the record straight.

She says the then Prime Minister blamed the crew in order to limit damages.

Air New Zealand on Saturday repeated its apology to the families of victims and says it hopes blame can now be set aside.

Speaking at the Christchurch memorial service, the company's international airline general manager Ed Sims said he hoped the focus could now move from blame to supporting those who had lost loved ones.

'I would like to repeat Air New Zealand's apology and say sorry to all those who did not receive the support and compassion they should have from Air New Zealand.'

There was standing room only at Air New Zealand headquarters in Auckland, where Archdeacon Glyn Cardy said Erebus had seared itself on the nation's consciousness.

He also said Air New Zealand staff did not open their hearts to the grieving at the time of the disaster, but that its recent apology has changed that.

Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe gave a moving address in which he admitted the airline had made mistakes and let people down in its handling of the disaster.

Families flown to Antarctica

About 70 people gathered at Scott Base on Saturday morning to pay tribute to the victims.

Scott Base coordinator Yvonne Costar says a memorial service at 11am was attended by representatives of six victims' families who were flown to Antarctica, together with an Air New Zealand representative and local staff.

The ceremony included a service and the laying of a wreath at the base's flagpole.

The support supervisor of the Scott Base programme, Simon Trotter, says the service was very emotional and especially significant because of the presence of family members and Air New Zealand representatives.

'It was a very interesting, powerful and moving experience - coupled with the beauty of the Antarctic environment.'

Mr Trotter says family members will visit Cape Evans, site of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's expedition hut, on Sunday.

They will fly to the crash site on Monday weather permitting, after high winds prevented helicopters from landing at the spot on Friday.

Frances Kell, whose father died in the crash, says it was wonderful to visit the site, even though a landing wasn't possible. She was amazed that no wreckage was visible from the sky but thinks it is probably better buried.