Wreckage of Flight TE901 sighted on Erebus

US Navy situation report announcing the first sighting of wreckage of Flight TE901.

Wreckage sighted

At 12 a.m. (NZST*), approximately an hour after Air New Zealand chief executive Morrie Davis had declared there was slim hope of anyone surviving Flight TE901, a US Navy LC-130, XD-03, sighted wreckage on the lower slopes of Mt Erebus. They reported the location to Mac Centre, the US Navy's air traffic control centre at McMurdo Station, noting that there were no apparent survivors, and waited for a US Navy UH-1N helicopter to arrive.

All Blacks vs Italy

A second-string All Black team met the full Italian national team in Rovigo on the day of the Erebus disaster. A crowd of about 15,000 turned out in this 'rugby mad' town to watch the game. Italy scored a 'gem' of a try but were beaten 18-12. News of a missing airliner reportedly circulated through the crowd during the game but the All Blacks only learned of it on their way back to their hotel.

Within a few minutes this news was sent through to the Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Auckland. At 1.15 a.m. (NZDT) Morrie Davis advised the media that wreckage had been sighted near Mt Erebus and that helicopters should arrive at the site within 20 minutes.

Weather conditions prevented helicopters from landing in the hours immediately after the discovery. But at 12.55 (NZST) Gentle 17 circled over the site and was able to identify the koru from the aircraft’s tail amid the wreckage. They too reported no sign of survivors.

The news that the wreckage had been found was broadcast in radio bulletins and on TVNZ in the early hours of the morning. TVNZ was on air later than usual broadcasting a live rugby game between the All Blacks and Italy and announced news of the discovery at half time.

Many of those with family or friends on the flight undoubtedly stayed up throughout the night and heard the news that the wreckage had been sighted. But most New Zealanders woke to the news the following morning. There was no breakfast television in 1979 but morning radio programmes like National Radio's Morning Report provided comprehensive coverage of the crash.

The headlines in most morning newspapers on 29 November had also been changed to reflect that the wreckage had been found – though the articles that followed generally reported the situation as it stood around 12 a.m. (NZDT).

*On the day of the Erebus disaster there was a one-hour time difference between New Zealand and McMurdo Station. McMurdo Station was operating under New Zealand Standard Time (NZST) while New Zealand was operating under daylight saving or New Zealand Daylight Time (NZDT). Scott Base and McMurdo Station did not begin observing daylight saving until 1992/93.  

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