28 Nov 2019

Apology lifts a lifelong weight for Erebus victim's daughter

From Checkpoint, 6:22 pm on 28 November 2019

The daughter of a flight engineer killed in the Erebus crash says the apology has lifted a weight she has been shouldering since she was a school girl, worrying her dad may have done something to cause the accident.

Virginia Brooks' father Gordon Brooks was an Air New Zealand engineer onboard flight 901, 40 years ago.

A private ceremony was held at Government House to mark 40 years since the crash on Mt Erebus in Antarctica in 1979, with the loss of 257 lives.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern issued a "wholehearted and wide-reaching" apology on behalf of the airline and government for both failures that led to the crash and the way things were handled in the aftermath.

She was joined by Air New Zealand Board Chair Dame Therese Walsh.

Neither had made a full apology before this.

Ms Brooks told Checkpoint's Lisa Owen it was "enormous".

"It's lifted a weight … I know my dad, knew the men he flew with. They were good at their job, they knew what they were doing, they really loved to fly.

"But at the same time when you hear it said that their negligence or their lack of attention to detail has caused this accident … I was 14 at the time 15 and it stuck.

"I worried, I thought 'my God, my dad caused the death of all these people'. I was a teenager, just trying to struggle to understand it."

She said learning about the white out, and that the crew were given the wrong coordinates, there was no doubt they were not at fault.

"But that thing lingers, and to hear this today was actually really emotional and really lifting a weight.

"I think it caused a lot of shame for a long time, you know I just didn't tell people who my dad was.

"I didn't tell friends, I didn't tell people because I just didn't want to go there, and I was still trying to figure out what the hell had happened."

Air New Zealand chair Dame Therese Walsh was "courageous" for apologising about the disaster, she said.

"I think it's very meaningful, I never thought I'd hear that.

"It's a controversy that has raged on so deep for so long. And there's so much politics behind the scenes I just figured that ship sailed."

She said the apology was met initially with a stunned silence.

"I'm so glad that we've had this apology … And I'm seeing the impact of it, for other people and what it means. And that's huge."

She said she has never heard her father on the flight recording from Air New Zealand Flight 901 before the crash, but she has seen the transcript.

"I think it shows dad's dedication to his job that he could be counting down the altitude while that plane… in those final moments.

"They would have been thoroughly confused in that moment as to what was going on."

The apology has definitely changed things, she said.

"I can feel that tangible lifting of a bit of weight and it's just amazing actually."

'It was special, spiritual'

The son of one of the crew killed on the flight said hearing an apology was almost a spiritual experience, and a huge relief.

Flight engineer Nick Moloney left behind his wife and three sons - one of them, Dan.

"It was special, I almost had tears in my eyes when they started talking about an apology. It was emotional, sort of spiritual, incredible. So thank you Jacinda, and thank you to the chair of Air New Zealand," Dan Moloney said.

He wasn't expecting an apology, which made an already memorable day that much more special.

"The Air New Zealand of today is not the [same] as 1979, and the prime minister of today is not the prime minister of 1979. It's a significant event, a formal apology. For my family, it's a weight off our shoulders."