Air New Zealand Safety Video: Cool or Cruel?

a group of people standing in front of a mural of a seal

I have been pondering about what to say about Air New Zealand’s safety video.

On 28th November 1979, Air New Zealand flight TE 901 took off from Auckland for a sightseeing flight over Antarctica. Due to a computing error, the McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 slammed into  Mount Erebus a 3,794 metre (12,448 ft) volcano located on Ross Island. All 237 passengers and 20 crew were killed. This was followed by complex search and rescue mission and a bitter and complicated investigation. There was such grief in NZ as the small nation felt connected to the disaster in so many ways. It was also Air New Zealand’s second accident in that year. The crash damaged Air New Zealand’s reputation and  sowed further doubt about the safety of the DC10.

The NZ government’s Attorney-General Jim McLay engaged High Court judge Justice Peter Mahon to conduct a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the tragedy. His ground breaking report released in April, 1981 cleared the crew of blame in the disaster. He noted that the dominant cause of the disaster was Air New Zealand’s alteration of the flight plan waypoint coordinates in the ground navigation computer without advising the crew. The new flight plan took the aircraft directly over the mountain. Due to “a malevolent trick of the polar light“, known as a whiteout situation, the crew were unable to visually identify the mountain in front of them.

What was damning was that Justice Mahon stated that Air New Zealand’s executives had engaged in “an orchestrated litany of lies” by covering up evidence and lying to investigators. Air NZ was accused of failing to provide enough support to the families of those killed.

In 2008, Justice Mahon was awarded posthumously the Jim Collins Memorial Award by the New Zealand Airline Pilots Association for “changing the general approach used in transport accidents investigations world wide.”

On the 30th anniversary, Air New Zealand’s CEO Rob Fyfe apologised to families of the dead during the unveiling of “momentum” a sculpture marking the significant events in Air New Zealand’s history.

The crash is New Zealand’s deadliest peacetime disaster.

The decision then to place Air New Zealand’s 2018 safety video in the Antarctic seems risky. The “World’s coolest Safety video” combines Air NZ promo, safety video and environment message about the Antarctic. The video features Entourage actor and UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador Adrian Grenier traveling around Antarctica following penguins and teaching schoolchildren about the remote continent:

The video is indeed very cool. It is beautiful, gripping, entertaining and powerful.  But I feel some discomfort watching it. Unlike every other Air NZ video, I am not in a hurry to see it again and again. Most people under 40 won’t have the same scruples as my generation but I remember too vividly the events of the day, the inquiries and the aftermath.

In New Zealand it has caused a furore. The airline statedWe are very conscious that Antarctica is of great significance to the families of those lost in the Mt Erebus tragedy and contacted family representatives to advise of the decision to film and the rationale behind this.”  Predictably, they must have missed some family representatives who have complained at not being told about the film.

Some family members think the video is okay, others have called on the airline 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.

Lewis Pugh, another UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador, maritime lawyer and pioneer swimmer has called the airline to scrap it.

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Others have strongly disagreed that it is offensive:

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What do you think?

Cool or Cruel? Respectful responses only please.


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