The podcast and video series Erebus Flight 901: Litany of Lies? runs on nzherald.co.nz on weekdays from Monday November 18 to Thursday November 28, the 40th anniversary of the Erebus disaster. Each day we'll highlight a key moment from the podcast transcript of that episode. You can listen to all the episodes in the NZ On Air-funded series in the iHeart player below or catch up on all our coverage of the disaster at nzherald.co.nz/erebus
Paul Davison - now a High Court judge - had no aviation experience when, as a young lawyer, he was called upon to assist the estate of Captain Jim Collins in relation to the pending report by the chief inspector of air accidents, Ron Chippindale into the crash of Flight TE 901. It would prove to be a pivotal point in Davison's legal career.
"Naively I thought that if the correct information was put forward in a logical way, supported by good material, that the answer was self-evident and Mr Chippindale would act on that. I was surprised that he didn't.
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"It became evident at a fairly early stage that Mr Chippindale was being told things by people which were inconsistent with what we were being told. That became more evident and more telling as time went on. I prepared the submissions and they were sent off in the hopeful expectation that they'd be acted upon.
"From a very early stage, I realised that the suggestion of pilot error was a total misconception of this accident, and it required much more than that - irrespective of the contribution the pilots may have had to the accident. To talk about pilot error without talking about the systemic event which had led them to that was just a one-dimensional view of the accident."
(Chippindale's report, apportioning blame on Captain Collins, was released before the Commision of Inquiry into the crash was held.)
"That was disappointing, because it was going to reinforce in the public's mind that an aerial expert accident inspector such as Mr Chippindale had concluded it was pilot error. That tended to cement a view which had already had a lot of momentum in the media and in the public view. So turning that around became just a further and steeper mountain to climb."
(Davison was receiving a lot of technical support from members of the Air Lines Pilots' Association, on behalf of the Collins family. They all agreed Chippindale's report was superficial.)
"That wasn't my personal view. It was a view supported by these pilots, who I was increasingly impressed by. This wasn't a matter of putting up a case to defend their fellow pilot, their friend, colleague. This was people saying: 'look, this could have been us, and Jim Collins was a very conscientious pilot. There's much more to this than simply some sort of lack of responsibility or irresponsibility of proceeding with, when he didn't know where he was. When you look, here's the answer.'
(The pilots were as "bemused and concerned" about it as he was, says Davison.) "My role was to get to the truth of this for the Collins' estate. There was no other purpose in this for me or the people around me. It was to get to the truth and it appeared the truth hadn't been revealed. That was the task."