The Government has agreed to build a national memorial to victims of the 1979 Mt Erebus plane crash in Antarctica, but it is not expected in time for the disaster's 40th anniversary next year.

Members of a group pushing for a national memorial to name all those who died are glad it will be built, but disappointed at the delay. They haven't stated where they want it built, but two relatives of victims have told the Herald they think Auckland would be suitable.

The group, which includes Lady June Hillary and other relatives of those killed on the Air New Zealand sightseeing flight, had hoped that the memorial would be in place for the 40th anniversary of the disaster in November next year. Lady June lost her first husband, Peter Mulgrew, in the disaster.

It is expected that next year's anniversary will be the last major Erebus anniversary that many ageing relatives of the victims will be able to attend.

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A spokesman for the group, Richard Waugh, said today it had been told by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage that the scale and complexity of the memorial project meant it would not be ready for the 40th anniversary.

This was despite the ministry having been approached about the idea early in 2016, Waugh said.

"They say something should be ready for maybe 2020."

"That has come as quite a disappointment," he said.

Group member David Allan, who lost both parents and a teenage sister in the accident, has previously complained of the frustration resulting from procrastination the group has faced.

"We have been ignored, resulting in a lack of any tangible progress over much of this year [2017]. It is embarrassing for the Erebus families and the procrastination can only be described as appalling."

Today, he told the Herald: "I think it is unfortunate that they haven't met the 40th anniversary deadline. However, I'm delighted that they are going ahead with it [a national memorial]."

Wreckage from the Air New Zealand DC10 that crashed on Mt Erebus in Antarctica in November 1979.
Wreckage from the Air New Zealand DC10 that crashed on Mt Erebus in Antarctica in November 1979.

All 257 people on board the Air New Zealand DC10 - 237 passengers and 20 crew - were killed in the crash. It is generally considered New Zealand's deadliest civil disaster, although some historical sources put the death toll of the 1931 Hawkes Bay earthquake at 258; others say 256.

There are several Erebus memorials, including the metal cross on the Antarctic mountain. At Waikumete Cemetery in West Auckland there is a memorial that names those who couldn't be positively identified or were never found, along with a small plaque inscribed: "In remembrance of all those lost in the Mt Erebus air disaster November 28, 1979." A memorial to the crew is sited near Auckland International Airport, on Tom Pearce Drive.

Waugh has said the families he is working with want a memorial that is elegant, accessible, and not in a cemetery.

The ministry said the Government is committed to establishing a national Erebus memorial and had initially planned to have it completed to mark the 40th anniversary.

"The ministry has since received specialist advice that aiming to get a ... memorial finished by November 2019 is too ambitious, given the need for meaningful consultation and high quality governance, site evaluation, design development - including a competition - consenting and building.

"We have received one or two expressions of disappointment from family members. We absolutely understand that disappointment.

"However, more people have contacted the Ministry to say that they support the decision, and agree that getting the memorial right is more important than getting it done by the 40th anniversary.

"We now expect to dedicate the memorial in the first half of 2020, and will be looking to mark the 40th anniversary in some other, special, way connected with the creation of the memorial."