Outrage over Air New Zealand safety video

 

GENERATIONS of New Zealanders will never forget where they were when they heard the news about flight 901.

It was an Air New Zealand sightseeing flight over Antarctica, which carried out a scheduled flight in November 1979.

Flight 901 took off from Auckland airport with 237 passengers - mostly New Zealanders, and one Australian - and 20 crew on board and was due to return to Auckland later that night.

But about four hours into the flight, the McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 crashed into Antarctica's mighty Mount Erebus, instantly killing everyone on board.

The crash remains New Zealand's deadliest peacetime disaster.

A rescue worker assesses the wreckage of the Air New Zealand DC10 plane after it crashed into Mount Erebus in Antarctica on November 28, 1979. Picture: AP/New Zealand Archives
A rescue worker assesses the wreckage of the Air New Zealand DC10 plane after it crashed into Mount Erebus in Antarctica on November 28, 1979. Picture: AP/New Zealand Archives

The pain of the tragedy lingered in its aftermath. Air New Zealand blamed the pilots for the crash. The airline was accused of covering up its mistakes. A Royal Commission of Inquiry was held, the public was outraged, and the families of the 257 victims were in deep pain.

Now, many those same families say they're being forced to relive the pain all over again, because of an Air New Zealand in-flight safety video, launched yesterday, which has been slammed as "gross, crass and disrespectful" to the Mount Erebus victims and the legacy of the horrific crash.

'IT IS THE ULTIMATE INSENSITIVE INSULT'

Air New Zealand, which was last year voted the world's best airline, is globally renowned for its clever, and often funny, safety videos.

Its latest offering, which it calls "the world's coolest safety video", has drawn criticism even before it was rolled out on Air New Zealand's domestic fleet on Thursday.

The video stars Entourage actor and environmentalist Adrian Grenier, who is seen travelling around Antarctica tracking penguins, visiting important sites, and teaching schoolchildren about the remote continent.

And there's the problem: it's set on Antarctica.

Hollywood star Adrian Grenier stars in the new video.
Hollywood star Adrian Grenier stars in the new video.

Mount Erebus, Antarctica's second-highest mountain, doesn't appear in the video. But for many, the painful connection of Air New Zealand and Antarctica is all too apparent.

Families of Mount Erebus crash victims have been calling for months for Air New Zealand to scrap it.

"For many of us flying with Air New Zealand can be a very difficult reminder of the past and how this changed our lives," said David Ling, whose mother Alison Ling died in the crash.

"To be on board and confronted by a safety video you're obliged to watch set in Antarctica is beyond ironic. It is the ultimate insensitive insult to the families, both immediate and wider."

The cockpit control panel of flight 901. A change in the flight path that wasn’t communicated to crew was found to have contributed to the crash. Picture: AP/New Zealand Archives
The cockpit control panel of flight 901. A change in the flight path that wasn’t communicated to crew was found to have contributed to the crash. Picture: AP/New Zealand Archives

Speaking to theNew Zealand Herald, Mr Ling continued: "How they could possibly think that this is a good idea - mixing some sort of PR story with a safety video, set in the area where they lost so many lives - is beyond us.

"In its cruellest moments even Monty Python couldn't have scripted such a gross idea as this."

Air New Zealand said it had contacted families of Mount Erebus victims on its email database and received "very positive responses" about the video's content.

"It was important to us that immediate family members of those lost on Mount Erebus were among the first to be told about the filming project in Antarctica and we have reached out to family members registered in our database directly to share details of our upcoming safety video and the rationale behind this," a spokeswoman said.

The wreckage of flight 901, which crashed at Mount Erebus, Antarctica’s second-highest mountain.
The wreckage of flight 901, which crashed at Mount Erebus, Antarctica’s second-highest mountain.

The airline said it apologised to any families it may have missed. Mr Ling told the Herald he wasn't contacted by the airline.

Another relative, Nicholas Bennett, whose father was the chief purser on flight 901, told Radio NZ the airline "seemed to have a very dismissive attitude to concerns being voiced by families".

'HAS AIR NEW ZEALAND FORGOTTEN?'

It's not only the families of those killed on flight 901 that found Air New Zealand's new video tone deaf.

Across the ditch, the video has almost everyone talking.

Antarctica expert Lewis Pugh said Air New Zealand had got it "really badly wrong" in releasing the video.

"Has Air New Zealand forgotten about Air New Zealand flight 901?" he told Radio NZ.

"There will be sons and daughters and mothers and fathers who now get on an Air New Zealand flight and have to watch this safety video."

The choice of setting for the video has upset many people.
The choice of setting for the video has upset many people.

Mr Pugh, an environmental advocate, was also concerned about the video's portrayal of Antarctica as "the next great adventure playground".

"It is not," he said. "We have to remember that in Antarctica we humans are guests."

On Twitter, opinions have been split. Some people praised the airline's "amazing" new safety video and others said those offended by the video needed to "stop being so bloody sensitive".

Many, however, were critical of New Zealand's flag carrier.

The New Zealand Herald's travel editor called the video "a rare and very distasteful misstep on the marketing front for an airline that usually manages its messages very well".

And an opinion piece on Stuff.co.nz summed up the pain still felt over the crash.

The piece noted there was a "haunting spectre of what Mt Erebus and Antarctica means to New Zealanders away from the glossy edges of this latest extended promo".

"Nearly 40 years after Air NZ flight 901 crashed into Mt Erebus, killing all 257 on board, the continent still has an irrevocable link with a national tragedy," the piece read.

"And while Air NZ bosses wrote to families of those affected by the tragedy informing them of their intentions, you can't help but feel that this latest effort seems a little tone deaf at best."

The 4.45-minute video has attracted more than 512,000 views on YouTube, as well as mixed reviews.

The initial investigation after the crash of flight 901 concluded it was caused by pilot error, which sparked huge public outcry.

A subsequent Royal Commission of Inquiry found a change to the coordinates of the flight path made the night before the crash, coupled with a failure to inform the flight crew, led to the sightseeing aircraft being directed into the path of Mount Erebus instead of Antarctica's McMurdo Sound.



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