Mount Erebus



I have been listening to Paul Holmes on the national Programme talking about the book he has just written on the Mt Erebus DC10 crash. ‘Daughters of Erebus’. He was endeavouring to elevate Captain Collins the pilot of Flight TE901 to hero status, where in my opinion he was guilty of gross ineptitude, and broke cardinal piloting rules when he descended below the minimum height that he was authorised to, under visual Flight rules, especially in an polar environment. More so when he didn’t know exactly where he was, he only thought he knew. As well, he was not familiar with polar flying. Air New Zealand actually had experienced captains with polar experience, but there was no way were they going to set foot on the flight deck of a DC10, because of the strict hieratical system exercised by the chain of command and further enforced by the senior captains. Further more Collins didn’t have a clue about polar ‘White Outs’. You actually have to experience this to believe in it. A mountain immediately in front of you, can just disappear. I was lucky, as I flew in Canada for one winter. Pilots are taught early in their training, ‘There are rocks in clouds’ Only problem with the DC10 pilots, they were in a cloud but didn’t know it.


Holmes in the time allotted to him by National Radio managed to bad mouth Ron Chippindale the inspector of Air Accidents, describing him as a lackey of the Government, somehow he also managed to include that evil man (Holmes words) Rob Muldoon who was the prime Minister at the time. He as indited because he had Air NZ model aircraft on his desk.


Much has been made of the change in the Way Points. However they had nothing to do with the accident, as they were not intending to land on arrival. I was also surprised that Capt Collins didn’t go acrosss to the Navigation Dept and discuss the route with them. However in most accidents there is usually a cascade of errors, that add up to the outcome. He starts off with the first by his laid back attitude, culminating when the aircraft crashes. One thing that could have contributed to this was Peter Muldrew. He was on the fight deck as the polar expert, on two occasions when he was asked ‘Where is Mt Erebus?’ He gave the reply. ‘Twenty or twenty five miles to the left,, when in reality, it was nothing of the sort, but right under his nose. The only problem was he couldn’t see it. Actually from listening to the transcript of the flight deck recordings, he actually didn’t have a clue where he was, and as things tuned out it would have been better had he said, ‘I don’t know’ As he was busy shifting land masses around to suit where he thought he was. Much was made of the Mahon report as an experienced Jurists and judge. But in my opinion he had been talking down to people, far too long, and he was clearly out of his depth in this case.


It was said that Mahon not being an Airman, he should have had expert help. Well he did, Air Marshal Sir Rochford Hughes retired, he was sitting with him as the Air Expert, and to assist him. But Mahon chose pointedly to ignore him, and any advice he was given was contrary to the report he wrote. He had already made up his mind, and wrote his report without any of his expert import.



4 Responses to “Mount Erebus”

  1. James Jarvis says:


    I’m afraid you are absolutely wrong on several counts. I know this, as a lawyer who has spent countless hours reviewing the evidence, as an ex-policeman and therefore well able to assess credibility of witnesses and as an airline pilot and flying instructor.

    Without shredding your arguments here, which I am more than willing to do, I suggest that you do Holmes and the Collins family the simple courtesy of reading the book. You might be surprised. You may even be tempted to make a more detailed review of the literature and all the evidence.

    I am no fan of Paul Holmes, however I am very impressed with the accurate manner he portrays the players (many of whom I know) and the facts.

    It’s about time someone did!

    Only when you’ve gone to the effort to make a detailed study, should you come back and tell us what you think.


  2. D.Mitchell says:

    James: I’ve read the book (and all the others.)

    Page 369: “We know that Lucas had been diligent in his preparation for the flight because he and Jim Collins had paid a visit to Operation Deep Freeze for a briefing a month before, a visit confirmed by Chippindale, according to ALPA investigator First Officer Rhodes.”

    About ten minutes before Captain Collins descended below the safety height (16000 feet), he was given the weather at McMurdo Station and said: “Clouds come down a bit * * * may not be able to * * McMurdo. Very hard to tell the difference between the cloud and the ice”

    Where did that knowledge come from? The RNZAF briefing. So the captain was, in fact, briefed on sector whiteout and knew of the danger of attempting to fly visually below cloud.

  3. John Cox says:

    Wally, I agree with you. The pilot was clearly uncertain of his location; he was aware of whiteout (having attended a Deep Freeze briefing only a month before); he couldn’t see a mountain that was supposed to be less then 30 miles away when visibility was 30 miles; and he was cleared to descend under visual flight rules – in other words if he could see clearly any obstacles. The fact he then flew into the ground (not really a hill at that point) showed he made a number of errors of judgement.

    James, you may well be a lawyer, ex-policeman, airline pilot and flying instructor. However that does not justify the Holmes-like ad hominem attack on Wally.

    I have read Holmes’ book. I had difficulty reading such a biased and distorted account. However ultimately he proved that the pilots were largely responsible for the tragedy, though he may not realise it.

  4. D.Mitchell says:

    The captain was obviously uncertain towards the end, because after deciding to climb out, he turned left, towards where he originally thought the high ground to be (and after the first officer told him it was clear to the right).

    The captain’s uncertainty was the result of his uncertainty about the waypoint, the position of which he did not check against his chart. This was despite receiving contradictory information: The taped commentary at the briefing said that the waypoint was at McMurdo Station, whereas the sample flight plan that the captain took from the briefing had the waypoint 30 miles to the west. The captain obviously believed that this was the waypoint that was being typed into the AINS on the morning of the flight – but it would have taken only a few seconds to check it against the chart (which is what captains of previous flights did).

    I don’t believe that the captain ever planned his descent below MSA. It appears to have been a spur of the moment decision, provoked by the inability to get radio contact with the radar controller