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40th Anniversary Memorial Service: Mount Erebus Accident Flight TE 901

Issue date: 
Sunday, 24 November 2019
The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, GNZM, CVO, QSO

Image of Dame Patsy and the PM leaving the service

Inā te kī a rātau mā whatungarongaro te tangata toitū te whenua. Nau mai e te hunga morehu o tēnei aitua-nui o te motu. Tenei tonu tātau te tangi atu nei.

There is an old saying ‘people are lost, but the land endures’ and so do our memories. Welcome to you all. As together we are survivors of this national tragedy, here we reflect and still lament.

I specifically acknowledge:

The Right Reverend Ross Bay – Bishop of Auckland

The Very Reverend Anne Mills – Dean of Auckland, Holy Trinity Cathedral

The Hon Andrew Little, Minister of the Crown

The Hon Phil Goff – Mayor of Auckland

David Seymour, Member of Parliament

The Reverend Doctor Richard Waugh – Chaplain of the Honourable Company of Air Pilots (New Zealand Region)

Malcolm White  – Master of the Honourable Company of Air Pilots (United Kingdom)

Family and friends of the passengers and crew of Flight TE 901

Members of Operation Overdue and their families

Antarctica has a unique hold on the psyche of New Zealanders.  As one of its closest neighbours, our islands feel its presence, most particularly when a southerly rolls in and brings with it snow, hail, and bone-aching cold.

There are few places on this planet as beguiling or extreme: it is the coldest, the windiest, and driest continent – and majestic in its grandeur and beauty.

I can well imagine the excitement and curiosity of those travelling to the frozen continent 40 years ago, but I cannot begin to imagine the depth of despair felt by their whanau in the aftermath of the disaster.

The loss of Flight TE 901 on Wednesday the 28th of November 1979 shook New Zealand and New Zealanders to their core, and its impact was felt around the world.

Nearly two generations on, this anniversary has renewed our grief and sadness as we reflect on our shared memories and experiences of that tragedy.

In a nation with a relatively small population, many of us had a connection to the tragedy and its aftermath.

This evening, on behalf of our fellow New Zealanders, I pay tribute to the families and friends of the people, passengers and crew who lost their lives on Mount Erebus 40 years ago this week, and to those involved in Operation Overdue.

I also acknowledge those unable to attend this service, including the families of the international passengers.

I thank the Reverend Doctor Richard Waugh and the Erebus National Memorial advisory group for facilitating this memorial service, and for their unfailing dedication to those families over the intervening years.

To the members of Operation Overdue and their families who are here – I recognise that to this day, many of you still feel the effects of your time on the ice.

New Zealanders and their international colleagues were tested by the darkness and isolation, and by mental and physical challenges.

They had to dig deep into their reserves of strength and fortitude, going well beyond the boundaries of what could be expected in the course of their normal duties, and at a significant and enduring cost to their personal wellbeing.

As well as these profoundly personal impacts of the tragedy, the loss of the 237 passengers and 20 crew also shocked the nation, and indelibly shaped our national narrative.

Many New Zealanders recollect the first time they saw the image of the Air New Zealand koru in stark relief against the ice, on the front page of an evening newspaper or on their television screens.

It’s an image that broke our nation’s heart.

For my part, I was studying in the United States at the time and I woke to hear New Zealand  featuring in the radio news for the first and only time in my two years away.  The unfolding tragedy of the lost aircraft and then the discovered wreckage, made me feel a very long way from home, especially when I realised that I too, knew one of the passengers, who had been a student of mine at Victoria University of Wellington the previous year.

As with any event of this scale and nature – and we have fresh experience of this with the Canterbury earthquakes and the March 15 terrorist attacks – there is a sense of how swiftly things can change forever, impacting on us all at a personal and national level.

The government’s decision to create a national memorial recognises that the Erebus disaster was a loss to the entire nation.

The memorial will be a place of quiet reflection and remembrance, where families can see their loved ones’ names recorded and honoured.

In four days’ time I will host the Prime Minister, the families and members of Operation Overdue  at a commemoration at Government House here in Auckland.  It will be a privilege to share the day of the 40th anniversary with those who were so closely affected.

We cannot rewrite history and those lost cannot be brought back to us.

What we can do is offer recognition and remembrance, by paying tribute to those  who lost their lives, by acknowledging those who worked to bring them home to their loved ones, and by recognising the enduring sadness of our nation’s loss. 

No reira, ka maumahara ki a rātau.

And so we remember

Last updated: 
Sunday, 24 November 2019

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