Statistically, so I keep hearing, the odds of dying in a commercial plane crash are one in 29.4 million, and the odds of being in a plane crash are one in 11 million. The ‘safest mode of transport’ it may be, but it’s human fuck-ups at 30,000 feet that terrify me more than the failure of cutting-edge machinery, and with pilot error at 53% I shudder at the thought of one off his game. Moreover, when the company men on the ground are fucking up, too, your odds have shortened.
Air New Zealand Flight 901 in 1979 is your tragic archetypal case of total miscommunication. This was the last of Air New Zealand’s Antarctic sightseeing tours which departed from and returned to Auckland on the same day, a 5,000-mile return trip.
The night before the disaster, a correction was made to the flight path co-ordinates, the flight crew not informed of this change. Subsequently, the plane was directed not down McMurdo Sound but straight into Mount Erebus. The effects of sector whiteout phenomenon – the blending of clouds with the volcano – meant the crew were completely unaware of the outside topography. The fatal flight would claim 257 lives.
Peter Mahon QC’s Commission of Inquiry is an absolute must for anyone captivated by the tragedy.