★★★★ | Erebus: Into The Unknown

In 1979 257 people perished in an Air New Zealand flight in which an aircraft slammed into Mount Erebus in Antarctic, becoming one of the world’s worst air disasters.

The flight was a sightseeing excursion that left Auckland in the morning and was expected to return that evening. Sightseeing tours were a new and exciting breakthrough in the world of air-based tourism. Passengers were treated to breath-taking views, being wined and dined as a sub-zero, frozen world passed seamlessly beneath them.

When the DC10 aircraft failed to return alarm bells started to go off and operation Overdue was mounted. Within hours the lives of thousands of people would be changed forever, in New Zealand’s worst aviation accident to date. The nation was in shock for 200 of its citizens that died. Countless families, friends and a nation mourned for those lost on the inhospitable mountain side.

In this film, the story focuses on eleven ordinary police officers who were called upon to retrieve the shattered bodies of those victims. Eleven ordinary men who faced an extraordinary harrowing and life-changing battle against the bleak, forbidding landscape that forms Mount Erbus experiencing mass death on a massive scale.

Operation Overdue was the New Zealand police operation to lead a recovery operation. The first of these officers left from Christchurch on the 29th November 1979. It included the Chief Air Accident Investigator, Ron Chippindale, who led the site investigation, and the New Zealand Police search and rescue coordinator, Inspector Robert (Bob) Mitchell, who led the recovery operation. Just 11 New Zealand Police officers were selected from squads that included members of the Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) team and Search and Rescue. Accompanying these men was a handful of mountaineers. By the 10th of December, their job of recovering, bagging and repatriated bodies was complete. The DVI managed to recover 114 intact bodies, 133 bags of human remains and countless personal belonging back to the victims’ families.

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Using a mix of archive and re-enactment, Directors Peter Burger and Charlotte Purdy have created a powerful documentary that uncovers the power of the human spirit. That even against the greatest odds, courage can overcome fear.

Although short, this documentary film manages to capture the emotional rollercoaster faced by those directly involved with the disaster.