$3m funding for Erebus memorial

The Mt Erebus accident with 257 fatalities – 237 passengers and 20 crew – is New Zealand’s worst peacetime disaster. Photo R McPhail.

After three years of advocacy work, led by Howick’s Rev Dr Richard Waugh, the Erebus National Memorial group commends the announcement this week that the Government is allocating $3 million for an Auckland-based memorial.

A national memorial for the 1979 Mt Erebus air accident of Air New Zealand McDonnell-Douglas DC-10 ZK-NZP, Flight TE901 has been sadly lacking for a long time, Dr Waugh said.

The Mt Erebus accident with 257 fatalities – 237 passengers and 20 crew – is New Zealand’s worst peacetime disaster.

At the time it was the world’s fourth worst aviation accident, and is still the worst aviation accident in the Southern Hemisphere.

“New Zealand as a nation continues to be profoundly affected by the tragedy and it is a pastoral and public oversight that nothing has yet been done to establish a suitable national memorial to the Mt. Erebus accident victims, especially for the many families involved,” Dr Waugh said.

Other more recent disasters have their own national memorials, including for the Pike River accident and Christchurch earthquake victims.

“Our group, which includes Erebus families, has been working for three years on the national memorial for the Erebus accident,” Dr Waugh told the Times.

“Many of our meetings have been held at my church offices in Botany. It has been most encouraging having Government support and we have been working with the Ministry of Culture and Heritage on the complex processes to ensure the very best result.

“While we are told the memorial will not be ready for the 40th anniversary in late 2019, we are being assured it will be ready for dedication in the first half of 2020.”

When asked about the Auckland site Dr Waugh commented, “The exact site has not yet been made public, but I am pleased it will be in Auckland as many Erebus families have said they would like the memorial to be elegant, accessible and not in a cemetery.

“Of the Erebus passengers a significant majority came from the greater Auckland region, and all the crew, so for accessibility purposes – and for families of overseas passengers – Auckland seems like a good logical place.

“Our group is hoping an appropriate site will be soon confirmed that already has adequate parking and toilets so that the allocated $3m can all go into the memorial itself, and not into infrastructure.”

Simeon Brown, MP for Pakuranga, welcomed the announcement.

“This is an important issue to many in the Pakuranga electorate, including Rev Dr Richard Waugh who is the spokesperson for the Erebus National Memorial Group and who has been a significant advocate for this memorial and for the families of those who died in this disaster,” said Brown.

“With the 40th anniversary of this disaster now just a year away, I hope the Government moves quickly on its pledge as I know the construction of a memorial in time for the anniversary is incredibly important to the victims’ families.

“I commend the Government on its action and commitment to this memorial, as it will help bring some closure to a difficult part of New Zealand’s history.”