Mt Erebus lobby group takes campaign to Beehive

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 want action on the project and is taking its case to the Prime Minister.

The 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.

“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,” he says.

“The families are quite reasonably asking for a special place where all 257 names can be together and where people can gather for reflection, prayer and special remembering.”

Erebus families’ representative David Allan, of Hawkes Bay, who lost both parents and his teenage sister in the 1979 Erebus aviation tragedy, said during the recent general election campaign that the excuses and the procrastination “are extremely frustrating”.

“We have been ignored, resulting in a lack of any tangible progress over much of this year. It is embarrassing for the Erebus families and the procrastination can only be described as appalling.”

Dr Waugh has confirmed that discussions have now started with the new Labour Government. The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has been appointed Minister for Art, Culture and Heritage.

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.

“Yet it is not too late for the new Government to help the Erebus families in their ongoing grief, create an elegant and attractive place where all 257 names can be honoured, and where New Zealand as a nation can remember its worst civil disaster.”

The number of close family is in the hundreds. With grandchildren and wider family and friends, thousands of New Zealanders, and others from overseas have direct links to the accident. 58 passengers came from overseas: Australia (2), Canada (2), France (1), Japan (24), Switzerland (2), United Kingdom (5) and the United States (22). Many Erebus children and grandchildren have registered and placed heartfelt messages on the National Memorial website. See www.erebusnationalmemorial.nz

The New Zealand Airline Pilots Association also maintains a significant website about the Mt. Erebus accident, including a ‘Roll of Remembrance’ listing all the crew and passengers on the flight and with some public comments by relatives. See: http://www.erebus.co.nz/MemorialandAwards/RollofRemembrance.aspx

Times Newspapers’ editor Nick Krause commends the good work being done for the Erebus National Memorial and encourages supporters to visit the website and register support.

  • Want to help? Write to the Jacinda Ardern, Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, Parliament, Private Bag, Wellington (and copy to Erebus National Memorial PO Box 82363 Highland Park, Auckland 2143), supporting the  Erebus National Memorial of the 40th anniversary of the accident in November 2019.
  • For further information email Rev Dr Richard Waugh at rjw@ecw.org.nz