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New Zealand DC-10 Hits Mt. Erebus Killing 257

By Patrick Mondout

On November 28, 1979, an Air New Zealand DC-10 charter to Antarctica with 237 passengers and 20 crew crashed into Mt. Erebus killing all aboard.

The flight was a popular quarterly flight offered by Air New Zealand to allow passengers to see Antarctica. Well known explorers such as Sir Edmund Hillary accompanied these flights to tell stories to the passengers and to act as guides. The guest for this flight, which contained tourists from the U.S., U.K., Japan, France, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, was Peter Mulgrew. He was known for making the first overland crossing in fifty years to the South Pole (with Hillary) in 1958.

Air New Zealand DC-10-30

This is the actual Air New Zealand DC-10 involved in this crash, as seen in Auckland in August 1977.

Image courtesy of AirNikon. Find more of his photos at

Air New Zealand purposely reduced the capacity of these flights from 258 to 237 to allow passengers to roam the aircraft more freely and to allow all a chance to photographs out the windows.

The passengers carried no luggage and their tickets for the the circular journey were for a trip from Auckland to Auckland. The flight was uneventful for the passengers and crew until they approached what they believed was Ross Island in Antarctica.

Mt. Erebus/McMurdo

Mount Erebus, home of an active volcano and with an elevation of 12,448 feet, sits behind McMurdo Station in the Antarctic.

DOD photo.

"I don't like this"

Here is a transcript from the cockpit voice recorder (CVR). Peter Mulgrew is speaking to the passengers over the PA system from the cockpit [times are G.M.T. as in the accident report]:

00:46:02 Peter Mulgrew: "This is Peter Mulgrew speaking again folks. I still can't see very much at the moment. Keep you informed soon as I see something that gives me a clue as to where we are. We're going down in altitude now and it won't be long before we get quite a good view."
[Various readings are given over the next 30 seconds.]
00:46:35 [Sound of altitude alert]
00:46:39 Flight Engineer Gordon Brooks: "Where's Erebus in relation to us a the moment?"
00:46:41 Peter Mulgrew: "Left, about 20 or 25 miles."
00:46:43 Unidentified crew: "Left do you reckon?"
00:46:44 Unidentified crew: "Well I don't know... I think"
00:46:44 Unidentified crew: "I've been looking for it."
00:46:45 First Officer Greg Cassin: "Yep, yep."
00:46:45 Unidentified crew: "I think it'll be er..."
00:46:48 Flight Engineer Gordon Brooks: "I'm just thinking of any high ground in the area, that's all."
00:46:51 Peter Mulgrew: "I think it'll be left yes."
00:46:55 Unidentified crew: "Yes, I reckon about here."
00:46:58 Peter Mulgrew: "Yes ... no, no, I don't really know."
00:47:02 Peter Mulgrew: "That's the edge."
[Various readings are given over the next minute and 45 seconds]
00:47:49 [Sound of altitude alert]
00:48:46 Captain Jim Collins: "Actually, these conditions don't look very good at all, do they?"
00:48:48 Peter Mulgrew: "No they don't."
00:48:50 Peter Mulgrew: "You're down at one one four (1,400 feet) now are you?"
00:48:50 Captain Jim Collins: "Fifteen hundred (feet)."
00:48:50 Peter Mulgrew: "Yes."
00:48:50 Captain Jim Collins: "Have we got them on the tower?"
00:48:50 First Officer Greg Cassin: "No... I'll try again"
[The crew had trouble reaching McMurdo on the radio many times due to interference from Mt. Erebus.]
00:48:50 Unknown crewmember: "Only got 'em on HF, that's all."
00:48:50 Captain Jim Collins: "Try them again."
00:48:50 First Officer Greg Cassin: "Ok."
00:49:08 Peter Mulgrew: "That looks like the edge of Ross Island there."
00:49:24 Flight Engineer Gordon Brooks: "I don't like this."
00:49:25 Captain Jim Collins: "Have you got anything from him?"
00:49:27 First Officer Greg Cassin: "No."
00:49:30 Captain Jim Collins: "We're 26 miles north. We'll have to climb out of this."
00:49:33 First Officer Greg Cassin: "It's clear on the right and (well) ahead."
00:49:34 Captain Jim Collins: "Is it?"
00:49:35 First Officer Greg Cassin: "Yes."
00:49:35 Peter Mulgrew: "You can see (Ross Island). Right. Fine!"
00:49:38 First Officer Greg Cassin: "Yes, you're clear to turn right there's no high."
00:49:42 Captain Jim Collins: "No... negative."
00:49:43 First Officer Greg Cassin: "(There's) no high ground if you do a one eighty."
00:49:44 DC-10 GPWS: [Whoop, whoop. Pull up. Whoop whoop.]
00:49:48 Flight Engineer Gordon Brooks: "Five hundred feet."
00:49:49 DC-10 GPWS: [Pull up.]
00:49:50 Flight Engineer Gordon Brooks: "Four hundred feet."
00:49:52 DC-10 GPWS: [Whoop, whoop. Pull up. Whoop whoop. Pull up.]
00:49:52 Captain Jim Collins: "Go-around power please."
00:49:55 DC-10 GPWS: [Whoop, whoop. Pull -.]
[Sound of impact; end of recording]

The accident was deemed unsurvivable. All of the injuries sustained indicated a deceleration at impact, that could not be survived with the type of restraint provided by a seat belt, additionally very few occupants appeared to have been wearing these seat belts.

Mt. Erebus DC-10 Crash

Wreckage of ZK-NZP looking north over Lewis Bay.

Image courtesy of New Zealand Ministry of Transport.

The computer flight plan used at the briefing for the crew had been known to be in error for 14 months in that it showed the destination point for McMurdo (a U.S. military station on the other side of Mt. Erebus) as two degrees ten minutes of longitude to the west of the intended turning point. This error was not corrected in the DC-10's computer until the day before the flight. Tragically the correction was not brought to the attention of the crew; they flew into Erebus as a result of poor visual conditions and the fact they were off course because of conflicting coordinates.

A judge later found that this was "the originating and dominating factor behind the disaster." The judge was also extremely upset at Air New Zealand management for a pattern of deception (regarding apparently rehearsed and coordinated statements from administrative employees to blame the pilots) and the destruction of  records. The actual statement from the judge is the strongest indictment of an airline this author has ever read.

Source: Office of Air Accidents Investigation, Ministry of Transport Report 79-139.

New Zealand 901 at a Glance
AirlineNew Zealand
DateNovember 28, 1979
Flight number901
Registration NumberZK-NZP
Crew Fatalities20 of 20
Passenger Fatalities237 of 237
Total Fatalities257 of 257

Air Safety References:
Bartelski, Jan. Disasters in the Air: Mysterious Air Disasters Explained. Airlife Publishing: England, 2001.
Beaty, David. The Naked Pilot: The Human Factor in Aircraft Accidents. Airlife Publishing: England, 1996.
Cushing, Steven. Fatal Words: Communication Clashes and Aircraft Crashes University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1997.
Faith, Nicholas. Black Box: The Air-Crash Detectives-Why Air Safety Is No Accident. Motorbooks International, 1997.
Gero, David. Aviation Disasters: The World's Major Civil Airliner Crashes Since 1950. Sutton, 2003.
Job, Macarthur. Air Disaster (Volume 1). Aerospace Publications: Fyshwick, Australia, 1995.
Job, Macarthur. Air Disaster (Volume 2). Aerospace Publications: Fyshwick, Australia, 1996.
Job, Macarthur. Air Disaster (Volume 3). Aerospace Publications: Fyshwick, Australia, 1999.
Krause, Shari Stamford. Aircraft Safety: Accident Investigations, Analyses & Applications. McGraw Hill, New York, 1996.
Macpherson, Malcolm. The Black Box : All-New Cockpit Voice Recorder Accounts Of In-flight Accidents. New York: William Morrow, 1998.
Macpherson, Malcolm. On a Wing and a Prayer: Interviews with Airline Disaster Survivors. Perennial, 2002.
Owen, David. Air Accident Investigation, 2nd Edition. Motorbooks International, 2002.
Stewart, Stanley. Emergency! - Crisis on the Flight Deck, 2nd Edition. Airlife Publishing, England, 2003.
Walters, James M. Aircraft Accident Analysis: Final Reports. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2000.
Wells, Alexander T. Commercial Aviation Safety, 3rd Edition. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2001.


Share Your Memories!

What do you remember about this crash? Were you a witness? Have you any compelling stories to share? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"That day in November, I remember a newsflash on the TV, an Air NZ DC10 has lost radio contact, that was 25 years ago, Philip Sherry, a newsreader for TV1 made the daunting announcement. I went to primary school with Captain Collins Daughter , Catherine, I met the guy once, to this day I still feel for the family of Captain Collins, and what they must have gone through is something that can only be described as hell. Call me what you want, 3 years later . information came through, a certain number of people had survived, this information is from actual persons on site that subsequently found it impossible to cope with. The initial impact killed most, Collins himself was catipulted 200 feet out the cocpit "




Airline: New Zealand

Location: Ross Island, Antarctica

Aircraft: McDonnell-Douglas DC10-30

Date: November 28, 1979

Total Fatalities: 257 of 257

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