Howick’s Rev Dr Richard Waugh has spoken out against a new Air New Zealand safety video filmed in Antarctica.
He joins a chorus of upset family members whose loved ones died in the 1979 Mt Erebus disaster. Air New Zealand flight 901 crashed into Mt Erebus on Ross Island, Antarctica. All 257 people on board were killed. Some Erebus families are asking for the safety video to be withdrawn.
Dr Waugh, a chaplain of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators and an aviation historian, is also a spokesperson for the Erebus National Memorial, a group advocating for a national memorial commemorating the Erebus air accident. It has also sought help from the government.
The voluntary group has been advocating for more than 18 months for the national memorial to be ready for the 40th anniversary of the tragedy, still the Southern Hemisphere’s worst aviation accident.
Dr Waugh and many of the memorial group are wrestling with the issues “about the many layers involved in this Air New Zealand-Antarctica-Safety video discussion, and how inextricably it relates to the timing of our advocacy for the Erebus National Memorial”.
Air New Zealand said in a media release its next safety video, due for release in March, “will highlight the fundamental importance of Antarctica in understanding global climate change”.
The upcoming video, and associated content profiling the work of scientists on the frozen continent, builds on Air New Zealand’s partnership with Antarctica New Zealand, which has supported climate and environmental research in the Ross Sea area since 2012, the airline said.
But Dr Waugh said there are Erebus family members “who I know have strong (and negative) feelings about the safety video”.
One woman who lost a family member told him in a communication, “I hope that some response has been initiated in regard to the Air NZ safety video to be filmed in Antarctica. I find it insensitive and arrogant and most distressing.”
He said another family’s view is that while conservation of the Antarctic environment is very important, “it does seem somewhat insensitive for Air New Zealand to proceed with a safety video of all things (rather than, say, a documentary) and especially at this time when details of the national memorial have yet to be confirmed. Another who lost a family member, one of the crew, is upset about the safety video.
“Our advocacy group has been working since early 2016 endeavouring to raise public awareness and to seek Government support for a national memorial for the Erebus accident, and especially for the 40th anniversary in November 2019,” Dr Waugh said.
“There are many spouses and siblings of victims still alive and they are all in their late 70s and 80s so time is running out.
“There is currently no public place in New Zealand where all 257 names are together and where people can gather for reflection, prayer, and special times.”
Despite the Prime Minister on November 28 endorsing the concept of an Erebus National Memorial and committing to meeting Erebus family members, he said, 10 weeks later nothing has eventuated; “not even a process or a meeting date, despite us continually asking”.
Air New Zealand has been “polite but basically dismissive of our advocacy work” for the National Memorial and have said, more than once, they will not respond or assist until the Government embraces the project.
“However, with the Prime Ministers’ November 2017 endorsement, and subsequent development of the safety video matter, we think that Air New Zealand not yet expressing support in any way whatsoever for the Erebus National Memorial makes the safety video even less appropriate at this important time,” Dr Waugh said.