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TE901 crash site near Mt Erebus

November 28th was the 30th anniversary of New Zealand’s worst ever aviation disaster – the crash of the Air New Zealand DC-10 on Flight 901 near the slopes of Mt Erebus in Antarctica.

Much has been written ad nauseam in the intervening 30 years. But the fact remains that when it happened it shocked the country to the very core; nearly every family in the country knew of someone directly affected by the loss of the 257 people on what had become a routine sight-seeing flight.

The investigation led by Ron Chippindale (a man who I studied under as part of an Air Safety Investigation course at university) was very controversial. Like any investigation to this day there is always more than one factor ala the ‘Swiss Cheese’ model developed by Professor James Reason.

Ben Sandilands, a journalist (in this case one who actually has knowledge when it comes to aviation matters) posted an interesting blog on Plane Talking today which touches on the controversy between the Chippindale report and the later report from the Royal Commission of Inquiry led by Judge Peter Mahon.

Maybe because I studied under Ron and found him to be an incredibly astute and personable gentleman that I am somewhat biased, although I don’t even think the issue of bias is relevant. The Chippindale report did not speak untruths; that the crash was ultimately the result of a functional crew flying a serviceable aircraft into the ground cannot be disputed. Although this became the eventual focus of the report the numerous other factors were not disregarded and these were developed in great detail by Judge Mahon. All of which served to show that the eventual ‘pilot error’ was indeed not really the fault of the pilots.

At the end of the day 30 years on New Zealand and indeed the world are safer for the efforts of people like Ron Chippindale, Peter Mahon and Gordon Vette (who assisted Mahon in his inquiry).

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