The podcast and video series Erebus Flight 901: Litany of Lies? runs on 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

Joe Madrid was a young US helicopter crew chief who was one of the first on the scene after Air NZ Flight 901 smashed into Mt Erebus. The sights that he encountered and the after-effects have had a lasting impact on his life. Madrid reveals that those who worked on the crash site: "paid the price - physically, mentally, socially."

"I was part of the Antarctic Development Squadron 6 and we deployed every winter or summer down there. I went early in the season, and my job was a helicopter crew chief."

On November 28, the squadron got word a DC10 had gone missing.


"And it wasn't 'til the next day it was discovered and we were told to pick up three mountain climbers and go to the site. And we flew over the mountain and came around and there down to our left was a black stain upon the snow.

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"You had 257 people strewn about like they were straws, like they had been toy dolls and somebody just tossed them out in a way in which they were in all positions, and why?

"These people didn't do anything wrong to anybody. There was no war, it was no police action. It was nothing. They were just having a good time on an airplane - and boom.

"Flying into that scene was horrendous. And then I think about the work we did flying back and forth every day, hauling bodies out, taking in food and supplies and then it slowly goes to the investigation and I think of the families that lost their relatives. Not good.

The recovery operation on Erebus. Photo / supplied
The recovery operation on Erebus. Photo / supplied

"I didn't talk about it very much at all and I didn't know how bad it had affected me 'til years later. Then I had a breakdown and I had to go to the hospital."

Later a special medal was awarded to those involved in the post-crash events. Madrid would have to travel from Tucson Arizona to Washington DC to retrieve his.

"I have a beef with Air New Zealand. I contacted Air New Zealand and asked them if they'd pay for my flight.


"They absolutely said 'no, we don't do that.' I think to myself: If I was able to go to the 40th anniversary in New Zealand would Air New Zealand pay for my ticket?

"No, they wouldn't. Would they pay for my therapy that I need to go through? Would they pay for the medications that I had to take? Would they pay for the two divorces that I had? No they wouldn't, because I feel they still don't take responsibility for what happened."

Footnote: The podcast producers put Joe Madrid's comments to Air New Zealand, which declined to comment.