Recognition for role during Erebus operation

Some of those involved in the 2007 presentation of the Erebus Medal at Parliament.


Just months after the Erebus disaster the New Zealand Police presented certificates of appreciation to some of the people who had assisted them during Operation Overdue. The certificates, part of an internal police honours system, indicated a very high degree of police regard. They were presented, largely to representatives, by the deputy commissioner, Ken Thompson, at a special ceremony at Police national headquarters on 21 May 1980. The recipients included:

  • Harry Keyes, a member of the Face Rescue Squad, a group of experienced mountaineers who assisted with personnel operating at the crash site
  • Dennis Kyne, Brian Wurth, Chuck Hitchcock and Tom McCabe, US Navy ratings who worked with the Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) team as photographers
  • Brian Vorderstrasse, a member of the US Navy para rescue team who worked alongside the DVI team
  • Leo Slattery, the postmaster at Scott Base, who was the sole link between the field operation and the police coordination centre in Wellington.

In March 1982, after no other acknowledgments were forthcoming, the New Zealand Police gave special commendations to 10 sworn police officers and non-sworn civilian staff members for outstanding services during Operation Overdue. The recipients were:

  • Chief Superintendent Brian Davies, the overall operation coordinator
  • Superintendent Ian Mills, who devised DVI procedures
  • Chief Inspector Brian Fahey, who supervised an Interpol communications system for overseas next of kin enquiries
  • Inspector Robert (Bob) Mitchell, who headed the recovery operation in Antarctica
  • Senior Sergeant Joe Franklin, who dealt with national and international media liaison
  • Dr Bill Treadwell, the police chief medical advisor who instigated a staff stress survey
  • Alan Frazier, psychiatrist, and Tony Taylor, psychologist, who conducted psychological testing and debriefing, and subsequently produced Psychological sequelae of Operation Overdue following the DC10 aircrash in Antarctica, a major report on the topic
  • Mary Greig and Mary Ratchford, who provided typing and clerical services for sustained periods.


In 1981 Inspector Robert Mitchell, who led the recovery operation in Antarctica, and Chief Inspector James (Jim) Morgan, who coordinated the victim identification phase of Operation Overdue in Auckland, were made MBEs in recognition of this work.

Further recognition finally came in November 2006 with the institution of the New Zealand Special Service (Erebus) Medal. The medal was instituted 'to recognise the service of those New Zealanders, and citizens of the United States and other countries, who were involved with the extremely difficult and very unpleasant, hazardous, and extreme circumstances associated with the body recovery, crash investigation and victim identification phases of Operation Overdue'.

The first 22 recipients had the medal conferred at a ceremony at Parliament on 22 March 2007. They included Hugh Logan, one of the three New Zealand mountaineers who confirmed there were no survivors of the crash, and former New Zealand Press Association journalist Paul Cavanagh, one of the three media representatives sent to the ice to cover the story. In the months that followed ceremonies were held in Christchurch, Palmerston North, Wellington and Auckland, and further medals were mailed to those who couldn't attend.

Some of the New Zealanders who received the medal in 2007 were critical of the time it subsequently took to award it to Americans who helped during Operation Overdue. At the time the New Zealand Defence Force advised that because of other workload commitments they had not yet approached the United States government for permission.

In June 2009 another ceremony was held in Washington and medals were conferred on 13 Americans involved in the recovery operation, mostly members of the US Navy. Further medals continue to be issued as members of the operation are identified and contacted.

Next page: The accident investigation and Chippindale's reports


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