Air NZ apologises to Erebus victims

Families still grieving nearly 30 years after New Zealand's worst air crash were not given enough support, Air New Zealand admitted today.

Air New Zealand flight TE 901 crashed into Mt Erebus in Antarctica on November 28, 1979.

Airline chief executive Rob Fyfe apologised to the families of the 257 victims, at a service in Auckland today to unveil a sculpture commemorating the disaster.

He told the gathering the airline had made mistakes and apologised to families who did not get enough support after the crash.

"Sorry to all of those who suffered the loss of a loved one or were affected by the Erebus tragedy and did not receive the support and compassion they should have from Air New Zealand.

"If we turn the clock back 30 years and reflect on the events following the Erebus tragedy, sadly there appears to be a different priority - the pursuit of someone or something to blame," Mr Fyfe said.

Prime Minister John Key also spoke about the "terrible waste of human life".

"We cannot bring them back, but we can honour and remember these brave people and we can learn from our past," he said.

"I know that a lot of the families who lost loved ones at Erebus did not feel as well cared for in the wake of that tragedy 30 years ago.

"I would expect them to be treated much more sensitively and compassionately today. So it is with great poignancy that I note how far we have come," Mr Key said.

Families who lost relatives in the Erebus tragedy and the airline's Airbus crash off the coast of southern France last year were at the unveiling today.

Kathryn Carter, whose father Captain Jim Collins piloted the doomed DC-10 aircraft to Antarctica, said Air New Zealand handled the situation very badly after the crash.

"It has been a hard 30 years for us. It was a culture of blame back then," she said.

"The crew were blamed for the accident, which wouldn't happen today."

She said the sculpture represented forward thinking and moving on in a positive way.

Mr Fyfe added that the hardest thing he'd had to do in his time at Air New Zealand, was to listen to Maria Collins, the wife of Captain Jim Collins, and Anne Cassin, wife of co-pilot Greg Cassin, describe their experiences in the days, months and years after flight TE901.

The pilots were chosen at the time because they were two of Air New Zealand's best pilots, Mr Fyfe said.

"Captain Collins and first officer Cassin, along with three other members of the flight crew, Graeme Lucas, Gordon Brooks and Nick Moloney, were highly regarded aviators. They deserve our respect and they certainly have mine.

"Ultimately, hundreds of families lost loved ones in this tragedy and all suffered equal loss.

"The enormity of the tragedy was overwhelming for Air New Zealand and the nation.

"We had fewer resources available on so many levels than we have today. As a result, Air New Zealand inevitably made mistakes, and undoubtedly let down people directly affected by the tragedy.

"I can't turn the clock back. I can't undo what has been done, but as I look forward I'd like to take the next step on our journey by saying sorry.

"As we approach the 30th anniversary when 257 lives were lost on the slopes of Mt Erebus, and the first anniversary of the loss of five New Zealanders and two German pilots in Airbus A320 off the coast of France on November 28 last year, we acknowledge that it is these events which most of you here today will connect with at this dedication ceremony, and so it should be."

Mr Fyfe added he thought the events following the Airbus A320 crash have shown Air New Zealand has learnt from the past.

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