Saturday, March 22, 2008


I dedicate this article to the country that is my home and the great land that lies at the bottom of the world. May harmony & beauty reign over you.

Mention 'Erebus' to any New Zealander (who is old enough to remember 1979) and they will be able to tell you what they were doing when they heard about the crash.
On 28 November 1979, while on a sightseeing tour to the Antarctic, Flight 901 ripped through the slopes of Mt Erebus, killing everyone on board. It remains the worst disaster in our country's history. In an instant that is still controversial, 257 people died.
NZ has always been somewhat isolated, tucked away at the end (or the beginning) of the world. In 1979, we were more of a large community than a country, and Erebus 'rocked' us. I remember a radio being brought into my class at school so we could hear the updates. A friend dropped by today and said her parents knew someone who was on the plane, that was the feel at the time, somehow close & personal.
There was a double edge to this event. As well as a national tragedy there was knowing in hindsight, something that the crew did not. At 1.40am on the morning of 28th November, the flight co-ordinates for Flight TE901 were changed and no one was told.

This moved the flight path 45km (27 miles) to the east and instead of flying over McMurdo Sound, the plane would cross Lewis Sound and fly directly over the top of Mt Erebus, the southernmost active volcano in the world. At 3794m (12,448ft) it is the second highest volcano in the Antarctic).
Sir Edmund Hillary who was to have been the narrator on this flight, pulled out due to other commitments (a strange sounding tale it would have been if the man who had climbed Mt Everest, died on Mt Erebus). His place was taken by his good friend & fellow explorer Peter Mulgrew.
The rainbow threads in this story create a densely woven fabric. Let the weaving begin.
While researching for my previous article I came upon a reference in Greek mythology to Erebus. As mentioned earlier, in NZ, it is 'a name that stands in infamy'. I was intrigued to find that Erebus was the primordial darkness & shadow, the offspring of Chaos (the void from which all things originated). Even more intriguing was finding that Erebus also refers to the region of the the Underworld, where the dead must first pass through, in essence the gateway to hell. The deepest region of Hades where the Titans were confined is known as Tartarus.
The children of Erebus & Nyx (Night) include the illustrious line up of Hypnos (Sleep), Thanatos (Death) and Charon (the ferryman of the dead).
'Erebus' took on a new significance.
Of all possible places, a plane had crashed into the entrance of the Underworld, or perhaps it could be said to have rent an opening into the Underworld. Rescue workers at the site later described it as a hellhole. The wreckage left a 600 metre trail (see picture above).
Further reference to Greek mythology yielded the story of the Titan, Menoetius (brother to Atlas, Promethius & Epimetheus) who was 'plunged into darkest Erebus' for his boundless audacity. I was interested to note that Sir Edmund Hillary, who escaped death on Erebus, (but died earlier this year) was described by the actor Brian Blessed as 'a kind of Titan'.
Menoetius whose name means 'defying fate' or 'ruined strength' is believed by some to be identical to Menoetes, the herdsman of Hades. He was overthrown by Hercules (in his twelfth & final labour) before he carried off Cereberus. Interestingly, the rescue team was dispatched on a C-130 Hercules and the bodies of the victims were 'ferried' back to NZ on a RNZAF Hercules.
A further subtle link with Hades was the sight of the koru (the Air New Zealand symbol used on the tail of their craft) found intact on the slopes, after the plane had been decimated.

I recalled seeing a similar name very recently. Kore is a name used for Persephone, Queen of Hades, it means 'young maiden or virgin'. Flight TE901 was the first ( could it be called virgin?) crash for our country's national airline, Air New Zealand.
The in flight catering for this 11 hour, round trip 'voyage to the end of the world' featured a special dessert. 'Peach Erebus' was to be served as the plane passed the Sentinel of McMurdo, the name given to Mt Erebus in advertising brochures. In China the peach has a venerated history. Xi Wangmu (also known as the Queen of the West, ensured the everlasting existence of the gods by feeding them the 'peaches of immortality'. The peach tree put forth leaves once every thousand years and it required another three thousand years for the fruit to ripen. 'Peach' was also used a slang word for 'young bride' another echo of Persephone perhaps.
The threads then returned to modern day, when in a very strange turn of events, I came across a story that eerily echoed a recent post on the Rainbow Warrior. Two days after the death mentioned in that post, on 12th February, Ron Chippindale, the chief crash investigator of Flight 901, was killed when a car went out of control and ploughed into him on a footpath.
Throughout this time a name kept appearing as I made my way through the endless Internet & book pages. The life & achievements of Sir Edmund Hillary, seemed to weave a parallel fabric.
Hillary reached the summit of Mt Everest in 1953, at the age of 33. News of this reached England on the eve of Queen Elizabeth's coronation and he was knighted just a few days later, making it one of the very first tasks the Queen undertook. In 1958 he reached the South Pole, in typical kiwi style, on a tractor.
Then in 1975, his wife & youngest daughter were killed in a plane crash in Nepal. Four years later his loss was echoed again, when his close friend, Peter Mulgrew took his place on TE901.
Hillary's life which seems filled with interesting dates, married the widow of Peter Mulgrew on 21st December 1989.
In 1985, he flew with Neil Armstrong to the North Pole. Neil Armstrong (if the accounts of moon landing are correct) landed on the moon on July 20th 1969, exactly fifty years to the day of Edmund Hillary's birth in 1919. After the flight Armstrong read an excerpt from an account by the Swede Saloman Andree who tried to reach the pole by balloon in 1897, & ended with an eerie tale that the bodies of the Andree expedition had been found 33 years later, on Bear Island. I feel this had some symbolic significance, especially as the Arctic is named for the bear. Edmund Hillary became the first man to stand at both the North & South Pole and the top of the world.
New Zealand has an emotional connection to the Antarctic through both the Erebus crash & Sir Edmund Hillary's fifty year association with that land. Scott Base is our main base in Antarctica, situated on Ross Island near Mt Erebus. Scott Base is named after Robert Falcon Scott, a British explorer. Incidentally, it was a V8 Ford Falcon, that killed the crash investigator Ron Chippindale.
Mt Erebus is situated on Ross island. Between 1840 & 1843 English explorer ...

... James Clark Ross commanded an Antarctic expedition in the region. It was he who named Mt Erebus and the neighbouring volcano, Mt Terror after his two expedition ships.
I do find it a little strange that sailors who are said to be such superstitious folk would wish to name, let alone sail in ships with such inauspicious names. Indeed, on returning from the Antarctic in 1842, in an incident that echoed the future, Terror ploughed into the side of Erebus ...

... while trying to avoid an ice berg. Both ships were locked together, but were eventually able to separate, however Erebus sustained massive damage. This description made me look at Mt Erebus in a new light. My thoughts have always been for the passengers of flight 901, and still are, but now I wonder could Mt Erebus have sustained great injury that day. This volcano's future had already been usurped by it's naming. The craze to dissect Gaia and pollute her with meaningless names boggles the mind. In NZ, the Maoris had the very great wisdom to name places appropriately ie. Rotorua translates to Roto (lake) & Rua (two), I'm sure you can work it out.
One further note about these ships. The Erebus & Terror were refitted after these voyages and under the command of Sir John Franklin, set out on an expedition to gather magnetic data in the Canadian Arctic & to complete a crossing of the Northwest Passage. They were last seen entering Baffin Bay in 1845. The expedition vanished and despite a massive search there was no news of their fate until 1848. Both ships had become icebound and had been abandoned by their crews, all of whom died from exposure, starvation & possibly botulism from tainted rations. There were also oral reports by local Inuit, that some crew members had resorted to cannibalism. Just how much is in a name.
We return to Antarctica, the frozen continent, the coldest place on earth. For such an inhospitable place, it sure is 'mighty popular'.
According to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 only research goes on here & while military personnel are allowed, we are told they don't do any military stuff, one wonders why they would need to be there then. Is the use of the word 'Treaty' a way of saying 'it's all right nothing is happening, you can go back to sleep'. I have come across some fascinating scenarios on this trek, including talk of Nazi bases. Operation Highjump in 1947 was a huge operation, there is the official version or the more interesting one (browse at your leisure).
From the early 1980's the hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica has generated a vast amount of interest. It has also generated forever and a day of research, funding for research & panic about the future of the world's environment, as any profitable business seems to do these days. Rational thinking and the working together of groups with differing beliefs is as likely as flying pigs circling the South Pole.
Ken Ring is a kiwi with some interesting ideas, all the more so because they lead us back to Erebus (go on, he's worth the read- the no nonsense approach will do you the world of good).
So Ken suggests that Erebus has a hand in the creation of the hole in ozone layer.
As above so below?
We are so used to a world that we affect only through such methods as pollution. We cannot comprehend another way of relating to our surroundings. Could the colossal impact, the devastation of human life, the futile horror of the rescuers have created a 'hellhole'? In 1984, Erebus erupted 'launching bombs measuring 10 meters wide and slung them as far as 3 kilometers away from the crater'. For the second half of 2005, it erupted up to six times a day. Consider also or as well, the possibility that activities carried out in Antarctica of which we know nothing, may directly affect this colossus.
Over the course of this article I have developed a feeling of friendship towards Erebus. I have my own views on the cause of the crash, Mt Erebus was not to blame, it was where it had always been.
I have to tie off the threads shortly because of a promise I made to whatever it was that urged me to write this. That I would post it at 6.oopm NZ time, as my antidote to the poison that I believe is about to be spilled into this country & it's surrounds through the ROCK2WGTN concert, a further attempt by the 'darkness' to create another hellhole. As my son said today, the biggest concert we have in NZ is The Big Day Out, and by world wide standards I'm sure you would laugh. The question is 'what the hell are they up to? I wouldn't blink an eye if it was in the USA or England but here - get off the grass!
The timing of the vernal equinox is no accident. As the darkness returns to Antarctica, this country will be rocked for two nights, by an energy that does not belong here.
On 28 Nov 1979, we were also rocked and so was Mt Erebus. Wellington stands on a fault line which I believe makes it easier to 'rock'. Has the darkness of Erebus arrived? Take a look at the plans for Wellington new airport, because if there's one way out of the darkness, it is the stupendous power of laughter.

I am grateful to Ellis Taylor for his timely article and post a link here
Some additional info is posted here for anyone who is interested.
Details of Erebus crash
Columbia Space Shuttle cloud over Antarctica three days after it is destroyed.
Ozone hole
Antarctic crater from 250 million years ago