In 1979 Air New Zealand Flight 901 Flew Into Mount Erebus in Antarctica Killing All 237 Passengers And 20 Crew
Air New Zealand Flight 901 flew into Mount Erebus on Ross Island, Antarctica at 404km/h. The Royal Commission called the disaster ‘an orchestrated litany of lies’.
The Erebus Disaster
On 28 November 1979, the world was stunned when Air New Zealand Flight 901 crashed into Mount Erebus on Ross Island in Antarctica, claiming the lives of all 257 people onboard.
It turned out to be one of the most catastrophic disasters in aviation history and sparked an official investigation known as the Royal Commission into the disaster, which revealed an “orchestrated litany of lies” surrounding the circumstances of the tragedy.
Air New Zealand Flight 901, commonly known as the Erebus Disaster, was a scheduled flight that left Auckland International Airport on an 11-day sightseeing tour over Antarctica on the 28th of November 1979.
The aircraft, a McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30, was carrying 257 passengers and 20 crew members to Antarctica when it flew into the side of Mt. Erebus on Ross Island at an altitude of 11,500 ft. All 257 people onboard were killed instantly in the disaster.
What Caused The Disaster
The cause of the Air Erebus disaster was determined to be a combination of human error and an inadequate briefing protocol, as well as a design flaw in the navigational system used by aircraft. Pilot errors — such as failing to update their flight risk assessment and incorrect decision making — played a significant role in the crash.
In addition, there were procedural shortcomings with the engine checklists that set up the situation which required the necessary corrective action. The black box recordings showed that moments before one crew member spotted Mt. Erebus they had activated their autopilot mode incorrectly, taking away their ability to manually escape their inevitable collision.
As a result of the crash, as well as its investigations, various systems were put into place to ensure similar tragedies were avoided in the future. The greater emphasis now being placed on flight risk assessments and pre-flight briefings, as well as mandatory simulator training for pilots of large aircraft are all tangible outcomes directly related to the Air Erebus disaster.
Additionally, numerous recidivism detection alert systems — including ground proximity warning devices — have been implemented in lieu of the disaster, further increasing air safety measures globally.
The Role of Human Error in the Crash
Human error ultimately contributed to the disaster in a number of ways, most notably through a failure to properly update the flight risk assessment and incorrect decision making.
Pilot errors also played a significant role by failing to update their flight risk assessment and incorrect decision making which allowed the aircraft to remain on an incorrect heading setting up the situation which required corrective action.
The black box recordings also showed that one crew member had activated autopilot incorrectly just moments before spotting Mt. Erebus, taking away their manual ability to escape collision at the last moment.
Human error in the plane crash was a contributing factor, yet the direct cause of this tragedy was said to be pilot misjudgment and failure to use proper navigational instruments. In essence, the incident was caused by a perfect storm of various compounding errors.
As time passes, advancements in modern aviation have been made to ensure that all potential human errors can be avoided in order for safe travel.
The emphasis is placed on safety protocols and procedures which are intended to prevent similar tragedies from occurring again by creating an air traffic system that takes advantage of current technologies.
Impact of the Erebus Disaster on Airlines’ Safety Practices
The Erebus disaster left a significant impact on the aviation industry, and it is widely considered to be one of the primary catalysts for the increases in safety protocols and flight risk assessment standards.
Post-disaster investigations revealed serious deficiencies in aircraft safety standards, contributing towards an enhanced understanding of the importance of staff training and adherence to regulations.
As a result, many airlines have implemented stringent procedure changes that are designed to dramatically reduce the risk of human errors by ensuring that all staff are constantly aware of changes in flight information.
In the years following the Erebus disaster, extensive research has been conducted on how best to improve airline safety standards, leading to the development of dedicated risk assessment systems that can alert flight crew if they deviate from their pre-assigned flight paths and airports.
Such programs provide a comprehensive understanding of terrain features across navigated routes and warn pilots when deviations become too excessive. Furthermore, staff training has undergone tremendous improvement in recent years, and ongoing refresher courses are conducted to ensure that all staff are familiar with changes in regulations or software.
All in all, these stringent safety protocols have helped to reduce air accidents around the world and help create a safer environment for passengers.
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