Erebus: Is it time to move on?

Antarctica from space. Image/NASA

Air New Zealand’s latest safety video is filmed in Antarctica, site of the 1979 crash on Mount Erebus that killed 237 passengers and 20 crew. Some of the victims’ relatives are upset about it.

When you hurt someone’s feelings, you don’t get to decide when enough time has passed for the hurt to be revisited.
Air New Zealand has decided that enough time has passed since the tragedy at Mt Erebus in Antarctica in 1979 for the country to move on. Their new safety video, starring Hollywood actor Adrian Grenier, celebrates some of the great work been done by Kiwi scientific teams on Antarctica.

Some relatives of the 257 Erebus victims are upset about the video and the airline’s poor communication with them. Air New Zealand seems to think they can tell Erebus families that it’s time to move on. They can’t.

That’s true, Air New Zealand can’t tell families it’s time to move on. But they might be ready to do that anyway. Moving on is part of the process. 

Most of us remember the Erebus disaster well, and legend has it that if you are a Kiwi, chances are you knew someone who was on that fateful flight. It took a Royal Commission of Inquiry to establish culpability; the airline was found to be at fault and, worse, guilty of a cover-up, and heads rolled. That was 39 years ago. So, I am wondering how long it is appropriate for Air New Zealand to wait before showcasing Antarctica in their safety video. Would it be 50 years or 60?

Grief is a process, and it can’t be avoided. It’s just a matter of difference in the timing and circumstances in which a loved one is lost. There are reminders everywhere, for everyone, of lives lost tragically. A mother or father may be on their daily drive past the spot where their son or daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Advertisements for 100% pure New Zealand that show off the beautiful but dangerous beaches may be a hard watch for someone who has had a relative drown in them.

Regardless of the circumstances, we cannot avoid reminders forever. At some point, there is a need to move on. That doesn’t mean the loved ones are no longer missed, or we are no longer sorry for the accident, or that it will be forgotten. Just simply that time has moved on, and that is okay.

Antarctica is on our doorstep and New Zealand is the lifeline for those who live and work there. It’s not unreasonable that our national airline would want to promote that connection. Isn’t it time to allow them to do that?

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