Belated Accident Investigation But Not For Crews

Operation Overdue was a Television Programme that lived up to its own billing.
It is always interesting to see how the programme makers view their own work and in this case it promised to tell the Emotional and Compelling true story of four Police Officers who went to Antarctica to Recover the victims of Air New Zealand Crash that killed all 260 on board.

The crash was the Fourth worst Aviation Disaster at the time. The eyes of the world were upon this small country and we just got on with it and did what needed doing.
Interspersed with news clips from the time, Erebus Operation Overdue did an excellent job, even though it was grim viewing. Naturally Actors played the men from the days of the Crash in the Antarctic, but it lost little in the reconstruction.

The horrors the men experienced made for some delicate viewing. The first descriptions of decapitated bodies and limbs meant I was flying solo so to speak, on this one as Mrs Brown quickly declared it too grisly and left me to it.

She had a point, and at times the programme was in danger of becoming too morbid and introspective, but the relevance of the topic ensured it stayed on track. To listen to Stuart Leighton and Greg Gilpin, the two main officers interviewed, recalling the gruesome task of recovering the bodies, or to be more precise, "find, identify and recover the bodies, took some doing.

Stuart was just 22 and with the benefit of hindsight, you had to wonder just why on earth this young, inexperienced officer was chosen. 
There were also some reminders it was set. One of the Officers used a telephone in which the numbers had to be dialled, in another, his two small daughters ran off to go to school after saying goodbye to him and nobody thought of driving them.

Once the Officers arrived in Antarctica, the folly of the selection criteria, if there was any, became even more bizarre. No- one from the teams had ever been down on the ice before so we had absolutely no idea what Antarctica was going to throw at us. We just knew it would be dangerous, Never having been in snow or ice before I thought,This is madness. He was not wrong.

The most farcical scene came from the American Fire Chief at McMurdo Base. Memorably played by ex-basketball identity John Dybvig, he was perplexed to say the least, when he inquired about the training of the officers.
Who has  Survival training in the snow.
One Officer put his hand up, so some quick training began.

The pressure was on, too, with a week before the sea ice broke up. Once that happened, the Hercules couldn't land to take bodies.

In the background was the whiff of scandal that surrounded Air New Zealand's role in the disaster. The programme makers had the balance just right when they Interviewed Peter Rhodes, an Air New Zealand pilot who was on the Accident Investigation Team on behalf of the Pilots Association.

It was clear that the airline's stance still bothered him.We were led to believe no one had any idea as to the probable cause.

Mohini Porwal [ B Sc]
Trainee News Editor


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