In this photograph of the crash site of Air New Zealand Flight TE901, the wreckage of the DC-10 appears as a dark smudge on the white slopes of Mt Erebus. The photo was taken by Bob Thomson during his visit to the site by helicopter on 30 November 1979, two days after the accident.
In the hours that followed the sighting of the wreckage of Air New Zealand's Antarctic Flight TE901, professionals and volunteers from around the country learned that they were required to head, assist or report on the site investigation and recovery operation in Antarctica. Numerous others stationed at Scott Base and McMurdo Station at the time of the disaster provided invaluable assistance to the investigation and recovery parties.
The first party left from Christchurch on the afternoon of 29 November aboard a Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130. It included:
In 1978 Chief Inspector Ian Mills and Inspector Bob Mitchell spent four months overseas studying disaster contingency planning. On their return they developed a disaster victim identification (DVI) plan, drawing on procedures used by the New South Wales Police and the FBI. The first training in this area was completed in March 1979, with plans to extend it throughout the country.
As the C-130 headed south, Keith Woodford, Hugh Logan and Daryl Thompson, the three New Zealand mountaineers who had been first to the crash site, and others from Scott Base, returned to erect polar tents and leave food and equipment for the coming party.
The flight arrived at McMurdo around midnight on 29 November. Mitchell, the mountaineers and others stayed at Scott Base, while the rest of police party was put up at McMurdo. Early the next morning Logan briefed the party on what they could expect at the site. He advised that he believed only 50 to 70 bodies would be able to be recovered.
Later that morning one of the US Navy's helicopters flew Chippindale, Mitchell and other key members of the party to view the crash site. They subsequently agreed on priorities. The first was to get the site surveyed and establish a grid pattern to assist with the location of aircraft parts and bodies.
Accommodation and resources at Scott Base were stretched during the aftermath of the Erebus disaster. Thomson and Scott Base leader Mike Prebble were keen that only those absolutely essential to the site investigation and recovery operation come.
Members of the investigation team and their mountaineer assistants would accompany surveyors on the first flight to try to recover the digital flight data recorder (DFDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR). Once the site had been surveyed and a helicopter pad established, members of the Search and Rescue and DVI team could move in to start recovering bodies and personal belongings.
That afternoon the weather closed in and prevented any members of the party reaching the crash site for another day and a half. In the intervening period the mountaineers ran through rudimentary safety measures with police and investigators.
Next page: Site investigation begins