A new memorial dedicated to the three young airmen who died in the Anzac Day 2010 Iroquois helicopter disaster indicates a "positive attitude shift" inside the air force, says the fatal crash's only survivor.
The memorial plaque was unveiled in a small, private New Zealand Defence Force ceremony at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand at Wigram in Christchurch on Thursday.
It remembers Corporal Ben Carson, 25, and flight lieutenants Hayden Madsen, 33, and Dan Gregory, 28, who died in the April 25, 2010 crash on a pre-dawn flight from Ohakea in Manawatu to the Anzac Day service in Wellington.
"Dedicated to the crew of Iroquois NZ3806 and those who will forever be affected by Anzac Day 2010," it reads.
Sergeant Stevin Creeggan survived the crash but suffered serious leg, chest, and spine injuries that, seven years on, have him in constant pain and struggling for employment.
He successfully took a prosecution against NZDF that led to it pleading guilty to health and safety breaches in 2014, after a court found Air Force commanders allowed a dangerous and deadly culture of rule-breaking to exist in an environment which had few warning systems.
Creeggan, who emigrated to Cairns in Queensland on December 27, 2014 – the day of his medical discharge from the Air Force - was flown over by the NZDF on Thursday for the poignant service.
"Coming back into this environment is difficult, especially after what's happened and knowing you won't be back again, but the service was very respectful to everyone, it was fantastic," he told the Herald afterwards.
The memorial, which comes more than seven years after the crash, is the clearest sign yet that the NZDF is finally willing to acknowledge the tragedy, Creegan says.
"For people to die, it is a tragedy. But not to learn from it is an even bigger tragedy," he said.
"If we learn from it, then it means that those lives meant something."
His views are echoed by Ben Carson's parents, who came from Noosa for the ceremony.
Andrew and Pauline Carson have been vocal critics of the Defence Force in the past, alleging a lack of accountability and transparency, but they too were touched by the service and the memorial.
"It was very moving, and it brings it all back up again," said Andrew.
The Defence Force issued a short statement which said: "The Royal New Zealand Air Force continues to remember the crew members of Iroquois NZ37806 and to acknowledge all those affected by Anzac Day 2010."