Capt. Gordon Vette
New Zealanders are often thought of as frontier- type individualists who take the view on life that if something needs to be fixed, or invented for that matter, we just get on and fix it or invent it. No job seems too difficult for a good Kiwi bloke. However, this hypothesis seems to unravel sometimes when a strong stand needs to be taken in the interests of truth, justice, and safety. It seems that we will sometimes take the view that the officials of government or of corporate structures know best because they are trained in the relevant rules and laws. It is just too hard fighting the company or government departments. They must be right……right?!
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, 1963
On 28 November 1979, an Air New Zealand DC-10, flight TE901, with 257 people aboard, took off from Auckland International Airport and flew southward to Antarctica for a scenic tour of the icy continent. Instead, TE901 collided with the slopes of Mt Erebus, a 12,447-foot volcano. The crash of Flight 901 was the loneliest of the world’s worst air disasters. The crash occurred 40 miles from USA research base McMurdo Station (population 1200 summer – 200 winter), an American Antarctic research center located on the southern tip of Ross Island on the shore of McMurdo Sound, 2,200 miles (3,500 km) due south of New Zealand. It took nine hours, before a US Navy aircraft from McMurdo Station sighted the wreckage which looked like a brown smear on the ice. There were no survivors of the high speed impact.
Despite its extreme isolation, the crash of TE901 is one of the most comprehensively documented aviation catastrophes. Investigations revealed that the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder “black boxes” were working and information retrieved from the recorders was decipherable. Almost every passenger on the sightseeing flight carried a camera and up to the last second shot films, which were painstakingly salvaged and carefully developed. Antarctic weather scientists had monitored local weather patterns, and received sophisticated film from satellites providing much information. Despite the extent of available information, the cause of the crash eluded civil aviation and company investigators. Why should a skilled crew, with an Antarctic explorer on the flight deck, fly straight into a mountain in clear weather? The crew was blamed. The official accident report, released on 12 June 1980, was compiled by New Zealand's Chief Inspector of Air Accidents, Ron Chippindale, and concluded that pilot error was the principal cause of the accident.