Friday, October 23, 2009

Air New Zealand apologises to victims families 30 years after Erebus air crash in the Antarctic...

Air New Zealand apologises to victims families thirty years after 257 passengers and crew died after Mt Erebus aircraft crash in the Antarctic...

Air New Zealand "undoubtedly let down" those affected by the Mt Erebus crash, the airline's chief executive said in the first apology to families of the dead today.

The apology comes nearly 30 years after an Air New Zealand jet slammed into Mt Erebus in Antarctica, killing all 257 on board.

The Air New Zealand DC-10 was on a sightseeing flight when it hit the mountain November 28, 1979.

Chief executive Rob Fyfe made the apology at the unveiling of a sculpture commemorating the disaster at the airline's head office in Auckland this morning.

"Air New Zealand inevitably made mistakes and undoubtedly let down people directly affected by the tragedy," Mr Fyfe said.

"I can't turn the clock back, I can't undo what has been done but as I look forward I'd like to start the next step of that journey by saying sorry.

"Sorry to all of those who suffered the loss of a loved one or were affected by the Erebus tragedy and did not receive the support and compassion that they should have from Air New Zealand."

Mr Fyfe said he hoped that the airline's response to the Airbus crash in Perpignan last year showed that the airline had learned lessons from Erebus.

Prime Minister John Key said the Erebus tragedy brought "shock, disbelief and mourning to our country".

Mr Key said he was 18 at the time of the crash and everyone "knew someone who knew someone who was on board".

"We cannot bring them back but we can honour these brave and true people and we can learn from our past."

The Erebus memorial sculpture - named 'Momentum' - is by Christchurch sculptor Phil Price. It was blessed by the Very Reverend Peter Beck from Christchurch Cathedral.

A seating area was set aside for the family members of those that died in the Erebus and Perpignan crashes for today's memorial.

Kathryn Carter, whose father Captain Jim Collins piloted the doomed plane, said Air New Zealand handled the situation very badly after the crash.

"It has been a hard 30 years for us. It was a culture of blame back then," she said.

"The crew were blamed for the accident, which wouldn't happen today.

"The sculpture represents forward thinking and moving on in a positive way."

The airline earlier said today's apology would take care of some of the "many of the gaps and failings that occurred in the days, months and years after November 28, 1979".

There was a controversial enquiry during which the Judge claimed there was a litany of lies emanating from Air NZ. He was strongly censured for his comments. Pilot error was the original verdict, but the truth won out eventually. The actual cause of the accident was what is called a "whiteout" where the ground is indistinguishable from the mountain itself.

Acknowledgements: NZPA - Msn NZ

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