A plan by businessman Mike Pero to charter a Boeing 747 to Antarctica in January to allow people to pay their respects to victims of the Erebus disaster has "deeply disturbed" Air New Zealand.
Mr Pero, managing director of SafeKiwi, announced the trip, which will cost between $1400 and $8600, depending on seating preferences, just days before the 30th anniversary of the crash. The Air New Zealand DC-10 crashed into Mt Erebus on November 28, 1979, killing all 257 passengers and crew.
Mr Pero said he decided to charter the plane because he was moved by the stories of those who had friends and relatives on board. However, Air New Zealand, which is taking a limited number of family members on a memorial flight to Antarctica this Saturday, has called the move commercial opportunism of the lowest kind.
"When I saw that only six family members of the victims were getting to go down to commemorate this anniversary, I was moved to do something for them," Mr Pero said.
He said he wanted to help the group of people who still want closure 30 years on.
"The aircraft will not land but will spend a couple of hours in the region.
"The flight will be open to the general public and is planned for Sunday, January 31."
Air New Zealand said that it had been working closely with the victims' families to explore options for visiting Antarctica.
The airline had also been in "close dialogue" with the Government and Antarctica New Zealand, as owners of the resources required to facilitate such trips to Antarctica and in particular Mt Erebus.
"Mike Pero did not engage with Air New Zealand over his plans for the flight to Antarctica or any opportunities this might present to families of Erebus victims. Therefore, the airline finds his announcement three days prior to the anniversary of the tragedy to be nothing more than commercial opportunism of the lowest kind and deeply disrespectful," Air New Zealand said.
Mr Pero needed to acknowledge to anybody signing up for the proposed flight that he could not guarantee the aircraft would fly over Mt Erebus as the weather was changeable.
The airline said the Government had been asked to consider future family visits.
- STAFF REPORTER, NZPA