It is one of the worst tragedies in New Zealand. On 28 November 1979, when a plane named TE 901 was passing over the snowy hills of Antarctica, there was a big explosion in it. This aircraft had 257 people on board. The accident gave New Zealand a big shock. Almost every citizen of this sparsely populated country was affected by this accident. For many years, the investigation went on to find out the reasons for this accident, and all the parties accused each other. The accident was named Mount Erebus Tragedy, which New Zealand still cannot forget.
How did that plane crash?
Air New Zealand started a special flight with the aim of getting people to Antarctica two years before this accident, this special service was very much liked by the people. Flying from Auckland, this special flight was amazing in itself when traveling 11 hours in the sky and reached the Antarctica continent in the southern part of the earth.
The flight was also well equipped with ease of comfort. It was a fascinating experience to see the snowy hills at one end of the earth. But on November 28, 1979, things did not happen so beautifully. Around 12 noon, the pilot of the plane, Captain Jim Collins, brought the plane down about 2000 feet (610 m), he wanted to bring his passengers closer to nature.
Captain Jim felt that he was on the right path like his old flights. He did not see any disturbances on the plane. People were busy taking pictures and making videos inside and outside the plane. Some of these pictures were made a few seconds before the plane crash. There were icy hills at some distance from the plane and the plane was flying over them when the captain and his companion in the cockpit realized that there was a hill right next to them. It must have been 1 o'clock in the afternoon when the emergency alarm sounded in the plane and about six seconds after that the plane hit Mount Erebus.
Attempts to contact the aircraft continued for several hours. Several thousand kilometers from the crash site in New Zealand, there was the illusion that the plane is not visible in the sky because of its fuel run out. An atmosphere of fear began to arise after the cloud of confusion and when the rescue team reached the accident area, the fear was proved to be true. The wreckage of the aircraft was spotted on Rous Island, in the foothills of Mount Erebus, making it clear that no one on board could survive.
Captain Andrew Riddling, head of the New Zealand Airline Pilots Association, told the BBC, "Such an accident cannot happen in the kind of aircraft we have today. Today's tools are very good. We now have a satellite-connected navigation system. If an aircraft starts going the wrong way, it is stopped beforehand. ''
The illusion of white snow
There were two major reasons behind this plane crash. The route the pilot was told about was different from the one on his computer. The Captain felt that he was on the same path on which he had also flown earlier. As they were passing over Rouse Island, the sounds of snow and water could be heard there.
The second reason for the accident was bad weather, due to which a white icy sheet was spread around the aircraft, which is also known as 'whiteout'. Whiteout means that when the aircraft is present between the clouds and the snowy peaks, the light comes out in such a way that the pilot gets the illusion that the weather ahead is clear. The pilot relied on the route recorded in his plane and he continued to move accordingly, realizing that the bright shining whiteness he could see from the cockpit was frozen ice above the water. They did not realize that it is a snowy mountain.
Whole New Zealand shaken
The crash killed 227 passengers and 30 crew members. 44 people could never be identified. At that time the population of New Zealand was close to three million. At that time people used to say that every person from New Zealand is connected with this accident. "This accident happened at a time when a young nation was trying to establish its identity," explains historian Rowan Light at Canterbury University. In the 1960s and 70s, the idea was left behind that New Zealand was merely a progressive outpost of the British Empire. ''
During that time New Zealand was trying to stand on its feet. The technology was a major medium in this endeavor. Along with this, the infrastructure was also being changed. In this effort, reaching Antarctica, which is about 4500 kilometers away from New Zealand, was also an important part of this New Zealand story. But in the midst of this growth, some major accidents shook New Zealand many times. In 1953, a train accident occurred in Tangivai, in which 151 people died. At the same time, an accident took place in Vahin Ferry in 1968, in which 51 people lost their lives.
The Mount Erebus incident was the third and most dangerous incident in this episode. The New Zealanders had not even emerged from the shock of this accident, that the investigation of this accident started giving them more pain. The first investigation found that the pilot was at fault. This investigation said that when the plane was at high altitude, it was flying perfectly but the pilots took it to the bottom, due to which it crashed.