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Erebus 40th Anniversary Memorial Speech
28 November 2019
The speech by New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association President, Captain Andrew Ridling, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Mt Erebus Disaster.
This was delivered at a commemorative ceremony held on the anniversary at the Erebus Crew Memorial Gardens, Auckland Airport.
Tēnā koutou and good afternoon to my colleagues, the Minister of Transport, and guests,
I am honoured today to be asked to speak and represent NZALPA, our members, New Zealand’s pilots and air traffic controllers, on a date that will forever be seared into the hearts and memories of our industry and our people.
November 28, 1979 was the day New Zealand’s aviation industry changed for ever. Along with mourning those 237 passengers and 20 flight and cabin crew that lost their lives in the Erebus tragedy came the sober and maturing dawn of the national airline to which many of us continue to serve New Zealanders and visitors today.
Though I was still in high school on the day of the disaster, I’ve now worked as a pilot for nearly 30 years, always with the background knowledge of the Erebus’ legacy.
Notwithstanding the rapid development of technology and specialist training there is still that extra care required which ensures the safety of our crew and the travelling public is never compromised, nothing is ever left to chance as we continue to strive for air travel to be pleasurable and event-free.
While clocking up the many flight hours, I’ve worked alongside inspiring colleagues and fellow NZALPA members who followed family members into this rewarding industry, despite losing them so tragically on that fateful day in Antarctica.
Other NZALPA members recollect the incredible efforts the association went to, to protect colleagues and their families rights and their professional reputations in the tumultuous months that followed from unfair conjecture and blame.
This is one of NZALPA’s lasting legacies and examples of which many of us are particularly proud of.
On a practical level, NZALPA wanted to create a living archive, and a resource for New Zealanders when we created and hosted the erebus.co.nz website several years ago. I’m delighted to announce today we launch its facelift to commemorate this 40th Anniversary.
The website is a comprehensive source of information about the crash of TE901, the people and the dark days that followed as the country tried to come to terms with an event and its causes. It is dedicated to those who lost their lives and the families left behind. It aims to ensure that the memories of those who died are never forgotten and the lessons learnt along this journey.
As we come together today, we are reminded that steel, technological developments and company profits do not make an industry – it is the dedication, skills and the shear hard mahi of the people and those who support them that is aviation’s lifeblood. And it is days like today that remind us of this.
We had another tragic reminder of this again on this same day, eleven years ago. Five New Zealanders and two German colleagues died off the coast of Perpignan, France, when taking delivery of an Airbus A320 - it crashed into the sea. For me, and I know many New Zealanders at the time, this brought back painful memories of Erebus, and for those who weren’t around in 1979, we together experienced the horrible shock of that one image – a broken tail plane with the iconic Koru floating within the debris of the Mediterranean.
Like this beautiful memorial garden shows, New Zealanders are very familiar with the need to have a space to remember these community-changing events. Whether it be taking the time to learn and understand more through digital archives on the Erebus website, or having a quiet time to reflect at a restful space such as this.
Last week, several NZALPA colleagues and I travelled to the Beehive and met with Transport Minister Phil Twyford, who we are delighted to see here again today. One of the messages we delivered was one we took on behalf of our members, and especially those who lost family members on Flight TE901.
When will New Zealanders finally get the official Erebus Memorial those passengers, crew, the families and our community deserve?
We appreciate the efforts of the Prime Minister and Minister of Transport in supporting the Memorial and hastening its construction. We urge New Zealanders to get behind the Government on this issue.
For New Zealanders, the word Erebus is not just a mountain on a cold distant continent. It is now a by-word for a dark time we hope we will never experience again.
Continue to rest in peace dear colleagues, TE901 was meant to be your ‘flight of a lifetime’ but it continues to live on as a legacy for all NZALPA members - and will continue to do so for the lifespan of ours and many New Zealanders.