Erebus campaign wins over PM

The families of those killed on Mt Erebus in 1979 are asking for a special place where all 257 names can be together and where people can gather for reflection, prayer and special remembering. Photo R McPhail

A group advocating for a national memorial commemorating the 1979 Erebus air accident which killed all 257 on board is delighted its cause has been taken up by the government.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday paid tribute to the victims of the Erebus tragedy on the 38th anniversary of the disaster and says she will meet families to progress “a long-overdue” national memorial. Ms Ardern says a national memorial is appropriate and overdue.

“This is a tragedy that touched every corner of New Zealand and understandably remains raw for the families and friends of the crew and passengers who died that day. It was a moment in our history when all New Zealanders paused.

“I agree with the families that we should look to have a national memorial in place by the 40th anniversary in two years’ time. I will sit down with them and Air New Zealand and talk about how we do that.

“I know families and others have been seeking a national memorial for some years and it’s high time we as a nation formally recognised this tragic event. I believe it is the appropriate thing to do.

Meanwhile a voluntary group has been advocating for the past 18 months for a national memorial to the people who died in the November 28, 1979, Mt. Erebus crash of Air New Zealand McDonnell Douglas DC-10 ZK-NZP, Flight TE901.

The group has campaigned for a memorial to be ready for the 40th anniversary of the tragedy, still the Southern Hemisphere’s worst aviation accident.

Despite meetings in Wellington and Auckland, the group says there had been “little tangible progress” by the time of the elections “which has led to some frustration”.

Howick resident and spokesperson for the Erebus National Memorial, Rev Dr Richard Waugh, says the national memorial for New Zealand’s worst civil disaster has been too long coming.

“The announcement on the 38th anniversary of the accident is opportune and comes after nearly two years of advocacy work,” he said.

He appeared on TV3’s ‘The Project’ on Tuesday night “further discussing what this all means”.

“There is no time to lose advancing the memorial project for the 40th anniversary in 2019.”

He had earlier observed that compared to the responsiveness of central and local Government to the Canterbury Earthquake victims’ families and Pike River families, “it is a matter of deep regret that central Government has not responded more pastorally to the pleas of the thousands of people who remain affected by the Mt Erebus accident”.

Patron for the Erebus National Memorial project is Lady June Hillary whose husband, Peter Mulgrew, died in the accident.

“Our advisory group is in touch with many surviving spouses and siblings and other close family, some of whom live here in east Auckland,” Dr Waugh says.

Many are now aged in their 70s and 80s. “They are waiting for a proper national memorial to the air accident. Did the Government tell the Pike River families and the families of those who died in the Canterbury earthquakes to wait 25 or 40 or 50 years before any memorial? Of course not.” Dr Waugh says.

For further information email Rev Dr Richard Waugh at rjw@ecw.org.nz