Coroner's inquest into the Erebus disaster

Coroner's inquest into the Erebus disaster

Antarctic flight coupon issued by Air New Zealand. Tickets like this one helped confirm the identity of Erebus disaster victims.

The special inquest

On 22 January 1980 a special inquest was opened by the Auckland district coroner, Allan Copeland, into the deaths of the 257 people on board Flight TE901.

On the first day, general evidence was heard. This included details of the departure of the flight from New Zealand, the sighting of the wreckage in Antarctica, and the recovery operation and victim identification phase.

Over the following days the passengers were considered: those from overseas on 23 January, and those from New Zealand on the 24th, 25th and 29th. In each case an Air New Zealand staff member presented evidence that the individual had presented their flight ticket. Where they had been positively identified, Chief Inspector Jim Morgan confirmed that a body or remains had been recovered and outlined how it had been identified. In each case the coroner made the finding that the individual:

died at Mt Erebus, Antarctica, on 28 November 1979, death being due to multiple injuries when the deceased was a passenger on Air New Zealand flight TE901, which crashed into Mt Erebus, Antarctica.

On 30 January, the last day of the inquest, the cabin and flight crew were considered. Again evidence was given that the crew member had been positively identified. An Air New Zealand staff member gave evidence that the one staff member who had not been positively identified had reported for work on the flight. Evidence was also given that no alcohol or drugs had been present in the bodies of the flight crew.

At the conclusion of the inquest the coroner found that no one could have survived the crash, and confirmed that the 44 people who had either not been positively identified or whose bodies had not been recovered from the crash site had been on the flight. He subsequently released the remains which had been recovered but not positively identified to Air New Zealand for burial.

Part of: Operation Overdue

Next page: The psychological toll of Operation Overdue


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