Coroner's inquest into the Erebus disaster

Antarctic flight coupon issued by Air New Zealand. Tickets like these were used to help confirm the identity of Erebus disaster victims.

The special inquest

On 22 January 1980 a special inquest was opened by the Auckland district coroner, Allan Copeland, into the deaths of the 257 people on board Flight TE901.

The first day consisted of general evidence. This included details of the departure of the flight from New Zealand, the sighting of the wreckage in Antarctica, and the subsequent recovery operation and victim identification phase.

In the days that followed the passengers were considered in turn. The overseas passengers were considered on 23 January, and the New Zealand passengers on 24, 25 and 29 January. In each case an Air New Zealand staff member presented evidence that the individual had presented their flight ticket. Then, where they had been positively identified, Chief Inspector Jim Morgan confirmed that a body or remains had been recovered and the means by which it was identified. In each case the coroner made the finding that the individual:

died at Mt Erebus, Antarctica, on 28 November 1979, death being due to multiple injuries when the deceased was a passenger on Air New Zealand flight TE901, which crashed into Mt Erebus, Antarctica.

On 30 January, the last day of the inquest, the cabin and flight crew were considered in turn. Again evidence was given where the crew member had been positively identified. For the one staff member who had not been positively identified, an Air New Zealand staff member gave evidence that the individual had reported for work on the flight. Evidence was also given that no alcohol or drugs were present in the flight crew.

At the conclusion of the inquest the coroner found that no one could have survived the crash, and confirmed that the 44 people who had either not been positively identified or whose bodies had not been recovered from the crash site had been on the flight. He subsequently released the remains of people who had been recovered, but not positively identified, to Air New Zealand for burial.

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