In accordance with accepted protocol, and as alluded to above, editing of transcripts is sometimes necessary to ensure passages deemed irrelevant to the causal sequence are not published. If that were not the case the irrelevant conversation could swamp the relevant passages and make it more difficult to interpret correctly. There is also the question of privacy and the chance of misuse of what amounts to privileged information. However the published transcript misrepresents the work the CVR Group did. While editing oversight was correctly within his area of responsibility, it was completely contrary to standard established procedure for the IIC to actually perform any editing by himself or only in the company of a senior manager from the airline, and particularly without recourse to other members of the CVR Group or other specialists 9. Editing must be strictly controlled, and not left to a single individual to determine the outcome – even if that individual is the Investigator-in-Charge.
Examined clinically, it is clear that for the IIC to have heard words that no one else could hear, and to have removed from the record words and phrases heard by others that tended to disprove his theory, his professional standard had fallen considerably short of where it ought to have been. The failure of the system to recognise this and take steps to compensate for it showed an equal lack of performance standards and protocols.
A number of people at the time wanted an investigation into the conduct and handling of the CVR, but the Chief Inspector’s status as Investigator-in-Charge, retaining solitary control of the conduct of the investigation, meant that no one could effectively challenge him during the technical investigation, which in any event was conducted out of public view. That was left to Commissioner Mahon J and the public inquiry, where for the first time many of these irregularities were revealed.
The original CVR Group correctly constructed a CVR transcript (the “Washington Transcript”).
The IIC produced a second, non-authenticated transcript (the “Farnborough Transcript”) containing no less than 55 departures from the “Washington Transcript” produced by the CVR Group.
The “Farnborough Transcript” was then substituted for the correct version in a manner quite unique to the annals of air safety investigation.
The CVR Group was not apprised of the substitute transcript prior to its appearance in the published accident report.
The "Franborough transcript" was able to be published and represented as an authenticated record.
The published transcript contains passages that do not meet any criteria for inclusion in such a record, including the infamous additions creating false images that the aircraft was flying in poor visibility and that its crew was lost.
The published transcript omits certain passages authenticated by the CVR Group, that show the flight crew were, as far as they knew, operating their aircraft properly.
The additional work carried out by the IIC was not subject to any form of independent quality control or checking and therefore ought not to have been relied on in any way.
The behaviour of the IIC throughout is consistent with his focus on one theory, that the crew were unsure of their position and flying in poor weather conditions. As a result the published transcript reflects that personal belief, rather than providing and unbiased conclusion.
About the author
Second Officer Gary Parata
Second Officer Gary Parata is an airline pilot with over 12,000 hours’ experience. At the time of writing this article he was an accredited air accident investigator with the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) and was the Chairman of the Accident, Incident, and Safety Group of the New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association. He was also a flight recorder specialist with, and Vice-Chairman of, the IFALPA Accident Analysis and Prevention Committee. In November 2005 he was appointed as IFALPA’s representative to the ICAO Accident Investigation Group and in May 2007 as its representative to the ICAO Flight Recorder Panel, he has since stepped down from these positions.
The author would like to acknowledge the following in the production of this article: retired DC10 pilot and NZALPA Scroll of Merit awardee Capt. Arthur Cooper, whose first-hand account of the CVR Group’s activities was invaluable; Stuart Macfarlane, retired lecturer in law at the University of Auckland and editor of The Erebus Papers, who provided much needed and on-going clarification with a number of legal and factual issues; Craig Oliver, former technical officer of the NZ Air Line Pilots’ Association, who suggested some editorial amendments; Anne Cassin (a pilot herself) who lost her husband that day, and whose recall of events in 1979 is still clear; NZALPA Life Member Capt. A. Gordon Vette, ONZM HonDEng (Glasgow) JP, whose selfless sacrifices and dedication to the profession of airline pilot shine like a beacon, exhorting us all to ever greater things; Capt. Paul McCarthy, whose analyses of the many drafts was necessarily brutal; and finally to those that were lost, and their families and friends, because they are the real reason that we continue to study this accident. It is for them, and indeed for all of us who fly, that we must ensure that all the lessons learned are not lost, too.
Loughlin, D., (2004) Transcript Casts Doubt on Erebus Report. Wellington: reported on 4 December 2004 in the “Dominion Post”
Macfarlane, S., (1991) The Erebus Papers. Auckland: Avon Press
Mahon, Hon P.T., (1981) Report of the Royal Commission to inquire into the Crash on Mt Erebus, Antarctica, of a DC-10 aircraft, operated by Air New Zealand Limited. Wellington: Government Printer
Office of Air Accidents Investigation, (1980) Report No 79-139. Wellington: Government Printer
Vette, A.G., and Macdonald, J., (1983) Impact Erebus. Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton