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Erebus flight briefing


Still from film flight crews were shown during the route qualification briefing for the Antarctic flights.

The route qualification briefing

On 9 November 1979, Captain Jim Collins and First Officer Greg Cassin, members of the flight crew rostered on the 28 November Antarctic flight, attended a route qualification briefing with Air New Zealand's Route Clearance Unit. The role of such briefings was to help pilots become familiar with a new route. Also present were members of the crew rostered on the 14 November Antarctic flight, including Captain Leslie Simpson. 


Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC): conditions that normally require pilots to fly under instrument flight rules (IFR). IFR are regulations and procedures for flying aircraft by referring only to the aircraft instrument panel for navigation. Most scheduled airline flights operate under IFR.

Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) are conditions in which pilots have sufficient visibility to fly the aircraft under visual flight rules (VFR). VFR are regulations for flying aircraft in conditions clear enough for the pilot to see where the aircraft is going. They are often used for sightseeing flights.

The briefing consisted of an audiovisual presentation (slides with a taped narrative), a review of printed briefing sheets, and a 45-minute exercise on a DC-10 simulator. It covered grid navigation and the details of the instrument flight rules (IFR) route to McMurdo Station. The minimum instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) altitude permitted until the flight reached McMurdo Station was 16,000 ft.

Pilots were also advised of a visual meteorological conditions (VMC) let down procedure over McMurdo Station. Within a specified sector they were permitted to descend to a minimum altitude of 6000 ft (1830 metres), provided they were flying in VMC conditions. If VMC was not maintained, 16,000 ft was the minimum safe altitude.

Material presented at the briefing, including a slide from a passenger brochure, a passenger information map, and printouts of a flight plan used for a previous trip to Antarctica, gave the crew members the impression that the IFR route would take them over flat sea ice of McMurdo Sound. So did descriptions of previous flights. Collins apparently either took a copy of the flight plan or made a note of the IFR navigational coordinates, and confirmed the track against a map at his home on the evening before the flight.

Part of: Timeline to disaster

Next page: The navigational coordinates


Image: Still from Erebus disaster: lookout - part 2. Sourced from TVNZ OnDemand YouTube channel.

How to cite this page

Erebus flight briefing, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated