Prime Minister John Key has dropped another clanger - this time misreading history around New Zealand's biggest aviation tragedy.

While in Antarctica, Key spoke of how he was affected by news of the Air New Zealand flight which crashed into the side of Mt Erebus.

Flight TE901 was destroyed on impact, killing all 257 passengers and crew.

"I know I was starting School C at around that time - it's a memory that's lasted with me till now," Key said this week.


John Key was born on August 9, 1961, and the Erebus disaster was on November 28, 1979 - meaning he would have been 18 at the time. Students usually sat School Certificate examinations about the age of 15.

Before flying out for Antarctica, Key passed out in front of other diners at a Christchurch restaurant. He was taken to Christchurch Hospital, where he was seen by three specialists, who decided he was fit to travel to Antarctica.

Canterbury University Senior Psychology Lecturer Dr Ewald Neumann said last night that memories were not infallible.

"Memories are not anything like video tape recording and are quite susceptible to distortion, especially over time," he said.

"Even major events you think are burned into your memory, even they can be wrong. Over time memory can be clouded and distorted in some way."

Neumann added Key's collapse at the Tutto Bene restaurant may have a lingering affect.

"His memory could be a little bit addled at the moment by the fainting spell."

Key was at Scott Base yesterday to return some of the world's most sought-after bottles of liquor in the world to their home.

Three bottles of 115-year-old whisky found in Ernest Shackleton's Cape Royds hut were delivered back to the frozen continent last night by Key after two years in Scotland being analysed and replicated.

Only a handful of people have tasted the unspoiled whisky. "We're all tempted to crack it open and have a little drink," the Prime Minister said as he handed a bottle to Antarctic New Zealand chair Rob Fenwick at Scott Base.

"I'm doing everything I can not to drop it," said Key, who wore gloves so as not to damage the original paper label.

"It's older than me and it deserves respect."

Shackleton left the cases in his hut ahead of his failed, but celebrated, attempt to reach the South Pole. They will be returned in March.

Brain fades

• Key sat through a briefing on the Kim Dotcom case weeks after a high-profile police raid on the internet mogul's property in Key's Helensville electorate. He said he completely forgot about it.

• Last October, Key told reporters he had voted for the drinking age to be raised to 20 but Key had voted for it to remain at 18.

• During an election debate in 2008, Key said he could not remember how he felt about the 1981 Springbok rugby tour. At the time of the contentious tour, Key was attending Canterbury University - a hotbed of protests. Pressed for an answer Key said he was "probably mildly pro-tour".

• Also in 2008, when questioned about sham foreign exchange deals, Key said he was not working at Elders when the deals were made. Labour proved Key was still at Elders at the time.