Erebus flight briefing

Still from film flight crews were shown during the route qualification briefing for the Antarctic flights.

The route qualification briefing

On 9 November 1979, Captain Jim Collins and First Officer Greg Cassin, part of the flight crew rostered on the 28 November Antarctic flight, attended a route qualification briefing with Air New Zealand's Route Clearance Unit (RCU). The role of such briefings was to help pilots become familiar with a new route. Also present were members of the crew rostered on the 14 November Antarctic flight, including Captain Leslie Simpson. 


Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC): conditions that normally require pilots to fly under instrument flight rules (IFR). IFR are regulations and procedures for flying aircraft by referring only to the aircraft instrument panel for navigation. Most scheduled airline flights operate under IFR.

Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) are conditions in which pilots have sufficient visibility to fly the aircraft under visual flight rules (VFR). VFR are regulations for flying aircraft in conditions generally clear enough to allow the pilot to see where the aircraft is going. They are often used for sightseeing flights.

The briefing consisted of an audio visual presentation (slides with a taped narrative), a review of printed briefing sheets, and a 45-minute exercise on a DC-10 simulator. It covered grid navigation and the details of the instrument flight rules (IFR) route to McMurdo Station, including that the minimum instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) altitude until they reached McMurdo Station was 16,000 ft.

Pilots were also advised of a visual meteorological conditions (VMC) let down procedure over McMurdo Station. Within a specified sector overhead the McMurdo Tactical Air Navigation system (TACAN) they were permitted to descend to a minimum altitude of 6000 ft (1830 metres) provided they were operating in VMC conditions. If VMC could not be maintained then 16,000 ft was the minimum safe altitude.

Material presented at the briefing, including a slide from a passenger brochure, a passenger information map, and printouts of a flight plan used for a previous trip to the Antarctic, gave the crew members the impression that the IFR route would take them over flat sea ice of McMurdo Sound. So did descriptions of previous flights. Collins apparently took a copy of the flight plan or noted down the IFR navigational coordinates, and confirmed the track against a map at his home the night before the flight.

Next page: The navigational coordinates


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