Erebus victim identification in NZ

Police operations on the night of the Erebus disaster.

Operation Overdue in New Zealand - initial steps

As those involved in the recovery operation headed to Antarctica in the immediate aftermath of the Erebus disaster, work was also underway in New Zealand to help identify the victims they recovered. The victim identification phase of Operation Overdue was headed by Chief Inspector Jim Morgan of the Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) team. Morgan's team included fellow members of the DVI unit, other police, pathologists, dentists, funeral directors and embalmers, and representatives of Air New Zealand (to assist in the identification of the cabin and flight crew).

In the hours immediately after the crash, but before its fate was known, New Zealand police confirmed the passenger list and (with the assistance of Interpol) notified next of kin that the flight was overdue. They also gathered various details on the passengers. Once the crash was confirmed, the police obtained as much information as they could on the passengers for identification purposes. As well as putting out a call to doctors and dentists for patient records, they asked friends and family what jewellery, clothing or property a victim might have been wearing or carrying. They also collected fingerprints from objects in the victims' homes, and from cars and luggage left at the airport and hotels.

On 2 December 1979, as the police continued with their inquiries, key members of the victim identification phase met to discuss procedures for the arrival of the first bodies. The bodies would be brought to Auckland because many of the passengers were from that area, and the Auckland University Mortuary was the only mortuary large enough to accommodate the numbers of bodies. They would be flown into the Royal New Zealand Air Force's Auckland base at Whenuapai. The base would be closed, and there would be no ceremony.

On 6 December the flight arrived at Whenuapai. The RNZAF C-130 backed into an aircraft hangar and, out of the sight of waiting reporters and photographers, the 114 bodies were transferred into a fleet of ambulances for transportation to the mortuary. Another flight arrived on 11 December. On this occasion, because of the numbers involved, the bodies, remains and personal belongings were transported in refrigerated trucks.

Next page: Post Mortems and Victim Identification

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