Wreckage of Flight TE901 sighted on Erebus

US Navy situation report announcing the 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 that there was only a slim hope of anyone surviving on Flight TE901, the crew of 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 Italian national team in Rovigo on the day of the Erebus disaster. A crowd of about 15,000 turned out in the 'rugby mad' town in the Po Valley 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, and the All Blacks learned of it on their way back to their hotel.

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

In fact, poor weather conditions prevented helicopters from landing for some hours. But at 12.55 NZST, Gentle 17 circled over the site and its crew were able to identify the koru on the wrecked aircraft’s tail. They too reported no sign of survivors.

The news that wreckage had been found was broadcast in radio bulletins and on TVNZ in the early hours of the morning. The state broadcaster was showing a live rugby game between the All Blacks and Italy, and announced the news at half-time.

Many of those with family or friends on the flight stayed up throughout the night and heard 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 radio programmes like National Radio's Morning Report provided comprehensive coverage of the crash.

While the headlines in most morning newspapers on 29 November reported that the wreckage had been found, the articles underneath generally reported the situation as it had been around midnight 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 the summer of 1992/93.  

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