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Lost Erebus tape holds vital clues

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Lost Erebus tape holds vital clues

Old 9th Dec 2004, 05:56
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Lost Erebus tape holds vital clues

Can anyone think who or what organisation might have a copy of the original? In NZ, UK or US? Note we are looking for the tape, not the transcript.

NZ Herald

One of the last big issues from the 1979 Mt Erebus disaster may never be settled because of the apparent disappearance of the crashed DC10's cockpit voice recorder tape.

Transport Accident Investigation Commission chief executive John Britton said yesterday that modern audio and filtering equipment could produce a clearer playback from the tape - if it could be found.

But the tape's fate is unknown, meaning it cannot be replayed to find out who said what during the aircraft's last minutes.

None of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Air New Zealand or Archives NZ seems to have the tape, which recorded the last 35 minutes of conversation in the cockpit of flight TE901 before it crashed in Antarctica 25 years ago, killing all 257 passengers and crew.

Only written transcripts remain, but it has emerged that three versions exist, with crucial differences.

The version that appears in chief air accidents inspector Ron Chippindale's 1980 report on the crash, blaming the pilots, has controversial phrases such as "Bit thick here, eh Bert?"

Those do not appear on a transcript produced with American help in Washington DC.

Supporters of the pilot error theory say the "Bert" comments indicate that the aircraft was flying lost in clouds when it hit Mt Erebus.

But retired pilot Arthur Cooper, who helped to transcribe the Washington version days after the crash, said last week that the "Bert" phrase was never uttered.

He also said the Washington transcript supported royal commissioner Justice Peter Mahon's 1981 finding that a navigation computer blunder caused the crash.

The CAA has said it gave the tape back to Air New Zealand after the various inquiries into the disaster were finished.

Air New Zealand says it gave everything it held on the disaster to Archives NZ years ago.

Archives NZ outreach co-ordinator Alison Hadfield, who is responsible for an exhibition on the crash now on at the organisation's head office in Wellington, searched the records yesterday for the tape.

She found a third transcript, made in Britain apparently by Mr Chippindale, though differing from the one in his report, but she could not find the tape itself.

Archives NZ holds scores of documents and other records relating to the crash and investigations, putting many on display in the exhibition.

Mr Britton said cockpit voice recorders now had much better sound quality than in 1979, as they used digital data that produced a clear playback.
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Old 9th Dec 2004, 07:25
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I'd sure be interested to hear more. My wife and I were extremely close to being on that plane and the feelings we had as we watched the TV news in NZ that evening will haunt us for ever.
Old 9th Dec 2004, 15:34
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I don't have it in front of me, but my recollection of reading Justice Mahon's book 'Verdict on Erebus' is that the official transcript was made when the NTSB played the tapes in Washington and that at the time, the RAE's equipment at Farnborough was superior. Mahon & Mr Baragwanath (counsel assisting) played the tape there and it apparently gave a different slant on things.

As for the 'Bert' comment, this was apparently unclear on the tape and they were unable to establish anyone named Bert on the flight, especially amongst the flight crew.

Mahon's account is of people sitting listening to the tape, manuallytranscribing what they >>think<< they hear - possibly making what they think they hear, fit what they think they know about the circumstances. I think he also mentions the possibility of some words getting mixed up due to differences in pronunciations between Kiwis and Americans.

I'll try to remember to take a look tonight & maybe edit tomorrow.

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Old 9th Dec 2004, 16:33
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Some relevant related info stated here and one of the transcripts available.
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Old 9th Dec 2004, 16:56
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How can anyone read that transcipt, or even the Chippendale version, without two things being blindingly obvious?

1) The crew thought they were no-where near Erebus, obviously based on there nav equipment and the infamous changed waypoint (The Captain even re-engages the nav system, obviously because he is confident his position re it's readout.)

2) The crew believed they were in VMC, albeit marginal. As was established, sector whiteout fooled them into thinking they were looking at a clear sky, and a descent in VMC is just fine as long as terrain clearence can be visualy maintained.

Did the original report even cover the changed nav co-ordinates? If not, what was the subsequent "Official" reason for ANZ not revealing this fact, and why did they think the crew got their position so wrong?
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Old 9th Dec 2004, 17:13
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That particular (KSSU configured) DC-10 had a state-of-the-art Area Navigation System for 1979... certainly the most advanced of its time.

I believe that two 8K core (memory in the old days) modules held the final 30 minutes of the flight and were recovered intact.

This was indisputable evidence of the W/P changes.
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Old 9th Dec 2004, 21:47
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A very sad and far reaching tragedy, I can hardly believe its 24 years ago I sat in my car, hearing the passangers and crew members names announced over the radio as all was confirmed .

What happened there after, during the enquiry and all surrounding it, really showed how unprepared and naive we where at ANZ and in general in NZL ! Has anything changed?

A few people still live today with the knowledge of who and what caused an unsuspecting crew to fly into a 14000ft high mountain that should not have been there.

The tapes will only show the crew reacted as they should of, nobody needs to lie for them.

the JudgeAG.
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Old 10th Dec 2004, 05:23
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Read Domion Post Saturday for more info...

Make sure you don't miss it if you're interested!

Yes Judge AG, the things that happened after were terrible and I think most NZers have no comprehension how bad it was...The pilots stood little chance of coming out unscathed from the attack that was led against them, especially since every shred of evidence on their side kept disappearing.

I think now, current employees do not need to be afraid of the more benevolent Air NZ & government of our era and ex employees now have nothing to lose. And as the victims families expand with time and grow older, and the public becomes more organically aware of what happened, there is a more solid support system for the widows who were left alone to cope with the pressure from above, from those who refused to take any responsibility when there was someone dead to do it for them.

Sorry if thats a bit harsh.

Oh and TD67, in reply to your comment on the accent, the Americans did indeed have a problem with it but to conquer that they flew over two kiwis who joined their team and signed off on everything with them, word by single word.
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Old 10th Dec 2004, 07:46
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To balance your assertion that "the pilots had little chance of coming out unscathed from the attack that was led against them", I would like to post the following views taken from " New Zealand Tragedies, Aviation" by John King.

Bob Thomson was with DSIR Antarctic Division.

"But Thomson had more experience in the Area than almost anybody else. During his 75 trips to Antarctica in the course of a long career with the DSIR Antarctic Division, at least 50 had been on the flight deck of aircraft approaching from the North, observing the ice edge and conditions. He was the commentator on Air New Zealand's inaugaral flight back in February 1977, with Captain Ian Gemmel in command, and also on the last completed trip before the flight 901 on 28 November.
In fact, he was originally scheduled to fly on the fatal flight, but had to change his plans be cause of an expected visit to Scott Base by Prime M inister Rob Muldoon in early December 1979. Instead, mountaineer Peter Mulgrew took his place-and was on the flight deck of ZK-NZP at the moment of impact.
Has Bob Thomson ever felt uneasy that, but for a twist of fate, he might have died that day?. "Not at all. I always insisted on a complete circuit of Ross Island before letting down below 17,000ft. That way I could get an idea of the complete situation and what the weather was like, where any clouds were".

" The captain didn't give attention to problems that he might have around there. These people were taking a Sunday drive. When I heard the transcript of the CVR I fell out of my chair. Most of the times Mulgrew had been there he'd gone in by sea, and all his travel from Scott Base was to the South. Hardly anybody ever went into Lewis Bay."

" Had they orbited Ross Island they would have seen the cloud. If a pilot is unsure he always goes up, never down. The co-pilot on Flight 901 never opened his flight bag to look up the co-ordinates. I always had a chart in the cockpit and checked the Lat and Long readout, but the crew of the fatal flight never referred to it."

Procedures for aircrews of military aircraft flying to Antarctica and landing at Williams Field have always been strictly observed. Full training in whiteout and other weather phenomena is provided, and no pilot is ever in command of a flight until he has already been a part of a flight crew and is thoroughly familiar with the area.

"Nor did Air New Zealand take advantage of the experience gained by members of their aircrews who flew on earlier flights. Apparently the NZALPA saw the Antarctic flights as a "Special perk" for their members and had an agreement with ANZ that flight crews should be spread widely amongst its members.
Therefore aircrews, including aircraft Captains, usually had not any previous experience on these flights, an experience which would have avoided the Erebus Disaster from ever happening."

This from a man, whilst not aircrew, had more experience of Antarctic operations than most, to my mind would put fault on both the Company and the aircrew, and any attack was not only against the crew.

Old 10th Dec 2004, 17:35
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The mistakes before, the attack after

Prospector, when I speak of the attack of the pilots I do not speak of the myriad reasons they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I agree that AIr NZ's policy of sending pilots inexperienced with antartic conditions was unwise, although sector whiteout was still unknown at the time. I also agree they should have had full training on flying in antarctic conditions as do the military. I'm somewhat amazed but encouraged that we agree on this.

However, the attack I speak of came not before, but after. From government and airline the cries of pilot error started early and loudly. Almost every shred of documentation, charts, notes, diaries that the pilots had left behind was stolen, misplaced or shredded. Thus the company was able to say that the pilots were fully informed because there was no information on what exactly had been in their briefing. For a long time they still insisted that the nav co'ordinates had not changed either. I'm not sure exactly what was in those papers, I'm not even a pilot, although I do know that their route was on it. I also vaguely remember that the chart that Captain Collins was given of the Ross Shelf was so small he had to go find a better one in an atlas to do how own research on where he was going.

My point is, there could have been many things in those papers for me to show a man such as yourself to show that they were not well informed, that they were told where to lower down, or that perhaps the importance of going low was stressed to them, perhaps ways to stay in VMC-I'm saying all this off the top of my head, but I'm sure you see my point. We'll never know-the only thing that we do know is that those papers had information that was important enough to be shredded, misplaced, stolen...

I have no idea if Sector Whiteout would apply at 17000 feet. Also I believed they dropped through a high layer of cloud to clear air beneath where they had a look but I have to admit to being a bit hazy on that-as a non-pilot it is hard to follow the transcripts, esp when I only have the Chippendale one at the moment. Bob Thomson mentions going up if you are unsure-if you are going off Chippendales transcript I am not surprised you thing they were unsure. I suggest that if it is published all interested should have a good read of the orginal Washington transcript - believe me, the differences are almost all ones that make the pilots look lost.

But I do agree, it is a tragic shame that the valuable knowledge of an experienced artic pilot like Bob Thomson was not shared with other crew. One does of course hope that airlines around the world have learned from these mistakes.
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Old 10th Dec 2004, 19:00
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his 75 trips to Antarctica in the course of a long career with the DSIR Antarctic Division, at least 50 had been on the flight deck of aircraft approaching from the North
Just how do you approach Antarctica from any other direction??????
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Old 10th Dec 2004, 19:15
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The Dominion Post reports that Archives NZ have found two copies of the tape.

However, the DomPost also say that the tapes are subject to a 70 year restriction imposed by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission, and could not be accessed before 2049 without the commission's approval.

Any request to play the tapes would have to be considered in terms of the law, which is that they can only be used for accident investigation.

I doubt a reopening of the investigation would be considered after all this time
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Old 11th Dec 2004, 04:09
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Flap 40,
In the context of the accident report Antarctica was specifically McMurdo Sound, the position of the McMurdo NDB was 7751South 16641East, so it would have been possible to approach from the South. But in general to approach from anywhere but North would be problematical.

Old 11th Dec 2004, 05:28
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Haha good point!

Its always good to retain a sense of humour even during the most serious of subjects! Its hard to imagine anything much more south than that, isn't it!!

I think the best we an do now is rely on comparing the Washinton transcript to Chippendale's. Keep a further out in the news. Believe me, the differences are emphatically important.
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Old 11th Dec 2004, 12:04
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Hmmm, I would presume the whole idea of flying to that particular location was to have a close look at the terrain, for everyones enjoyment and education.

So, one has to ask, if for any reason the flight crew where in any way unsure of their position and were also unable to keep the terrain clearly in sight, why then did they descend below the safe sector altitude?

Even if the crew were to have clearly trusted their navigation equipment, and felt sure it was correct, why descend below the sector altitude when you cannot clearly see the terrain, if that was the whole idea to begin with?

Sounds to me as though the crew is truly responsible for this very unfortunate accident.
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Old 11th Dec 2004, 13:45
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Twenty five years on,Erebus remains the most perplexing of all commercial aviation accidents.Pilot error,airline dishonnesty and malaise or negligence on the part of the CAA for allowing the flights to continue without the requirement for a previous visit and no whiteout familiarization(USAF had whiteout briefings).Which one was it?Or was it all three combined?

As a professional pilot,if you were briefed on a route a week before a flight,would you then check that the coordinates of the flight plan handed to you on the day of the flight corresponded to the flightplan coordinates that you were briefed on a week earlier?
If you take into account the proximity of Erebus to the route,there are those who say that Collins should have checked.

Fate also played a part.Hewitt,the navigation specialist,would have alerted the crew if he had truly believed he was changing the destination coordinates by 27 miles,knowing the effect it would have had on the approach to the Sound.But he thought he was only changing it by 2 miles so he might be excused for not telling anyone.What are the odds of something like that happening?

Chippendale's report was unfair to the crew as they clearly recognized that conditions were "not actually that good" and decided to climb out but were too late.Did Mahon's report go too far in an effort to redress the balance though?Fly a DC-10 clean at 1500 feet and you'd better know damn well where you are.Using RNAV to fly a valley approach and dip under the weather is also problematical.Only ground-based navigation permits descent below MSA.

As to the CVR,Chippendale's interpretation caused a storm because it reported Collins as ignoring the F/E's mounting alarm.Was it "Bert" or "Bird",as in Cape Bird?CVR analysis is an art and open to interpretation.Very often the greatest tool is not technical enhancement but a listener who knew the crews and their speech patterns well.

Last edited by Rananim; 12th Dec 2004 at 09:39.
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Old 11th Dec 2004, 20:01
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Be wary of basing blame from Chips transcript

As I mentioned earlier, hopefully the Washington transcript will shortly be published next to Chippendales so you can see the differences.

The reason this is so important is that in the Washington transcript there is no indication that the crew has any uncertainty of where they are until the last moment. Whole words, phrases and sentences have been added, deleted or changed in the final transcript that Chippendale himself edited. Almost all indicate uncertainty of weather or position. Sometimes just a question mark indicates questioning tone where there was none according to the Washington team (which I have found included at least 4 NZers to help with accents and voice ident).

Also as to 411A's comments, just to clarify, the crew weren't unsure of their position till the very last moments, and did believe they were in clear air - this is also backed up by photos taken by sightseers right up to the last moments. Sector whiteout is not cloud or fog or low visibility. This is something that the public often don't understand and it is a bit frustrating.

I do understand that it if you read the Chippendale transcripts and accept it as correct you would assume these things. That is something I am about to try and change. I believe the Washington transcript should be the official version. You should be aware that there was a representative of the Air Accident Investigation team in that Washington group that signed off on every word, then got overruled by his boss when he got home.

If I cannot get the Washington transcript published in the papers, I will copy it here, and offer it to every other website that has Chippendales version, if it takes me the rest of my life.

Don't judge the pilots without all the evidence, or on skewed evidence. I cannot express how hard the company & government at the time tried to make it look like their fault. This means that there is a limited and skewed amount of information to make your judgement on. I realise no-one can just take my word for it, but all I ask is that you keep an open mind, a seed of doubt in the integrity of some of the information pointing at pilot error. That's all I ask.

I do feel as if I'm dominating this thread - apologies if so...I just can't seem to let these misinterpretations go unreplied...
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Old 11th Dec 2004, 20:49
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I seem to remember that there was a documentry type film about this accident a long time ago. It was transmitted in two parts.

Does anyone have any drtailes ?
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Old 11th Dec 2004, 21:39
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Seeking Answers,
I would like to put forward the following.

It was a CFIT, it happened because Company SOP's were not complied with.

The Company was also at fault having prior knowledge that these SOP,s were being disregarded.

NZCAA is also at fault for not ensuring that their regulatory requirements to carry out these flight to the Antarctica were being complied with.

An inspector from CAA was in fact scheduled to travel on the Accident flight, however a family illness prevented this, if he had of been on the flight would the Company and NZCAA requirements have been so flagrantly disregarded??? who knows, and who will ever know.

The CVR is not really that important in showing the cause of the accident, it is of interest only in trying to explain why they did what they did.

Old 11th Dec 2004, 22:04
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mr kenco,
i think I may still have a copy of the original documentary. I shall hunt it out and pm you if I find it.
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