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How Flight TE901 got its name


This satellite image of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, appeared in the DSIR Bulletin 221, 1978. The connection between this image and the fatal Erebus flight of 28 November 1979 is explained below by Ross Mason:

In 1975, the DSIR, Physics and Engineering Laboratory, Lower Hutt, formed a new section called Remote Sensing. There were three in the initial team, Peter Ellis, Dennis Fowler and Ross Mason. We were charged with developing aerial survey techniques with ‘Multipsectral Cameras’ and acting as the dissemination centre for the new Landsat Earth Resources Satellites just beginning to orbit the earth. As these images started arriving we found it necessary to catalogue them. Of course, we had to have our own numbering system that related to which Landsat satellite and what the image was of. Landsat 1 catalogue began PEL100, Landsat 2 began PEL200 and Landsat 3 was PEL300. Images of Australia were PEL800 and Antarctica was PEL900.

The first image that arrived of Antarctica was duly numbered PEL901.

Remote Sensing published a book on the Earth Resources investigations in New Zealand called Landsat Over New Zealand. Page 224 has a colour photo of PEL901.

Enter Air New Zealand. They wanted the image on the brochure for the Antarctic flights and asked if they could use the image. In recognition of the image number Air New Zealand took it upon themselves to number the flight TE901.

The 'TE' prefix, which reflected Air New Zealand's origins as Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL), was the airline's international flight code until 1990, when it was replaced by 'NZ'.


Image supplied by NASA and processed by Physics and Engineering Laboratory, DSIR

How to cite this page

How Flight TE901 got its name, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated