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
Philip Keenan was on the other side of the world when he heard that his flight attendant sister Dianne was missing on the doomed Air New Zealand sightseeing trip to Erebus. He flew home to his Auckland family immediately. And after their worst fears were confirmed, fresh mysteries emerged.
Says Philip: "I was living with my girlfriend over in London and I just said 'look I've got to go home'. I remember the captain on the Air New Zealand flight calling me up into the cabin; he was just expressing his bewilderment and shock and he said 'I know Jim Collins and there is not an ounce of cowboy in that bloke. He's the most by-the-book pilot'."
(Dianne's body was never recovered - but some of her belongings were. This came under intense scrutiny by the Royal Commission of Inquiry, headed by Justice Peter Mahon, explains Philip.)
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"Her diary was recovered. The top right-hand corner, where her name was, had been torn out, and Justice Mahon, in his report, featured the diary because it was sent to the wife of Jim Collins and when she opened it, she found that it obviously wasn't her husband's, and had it returned to my family. "He [Collins] had a similar notebook. They had ripped the pages of his notations out and had discarded the contents and sent my sister's back in its place. This was the source of a great deal of controversy at the time … it was obviously some form of active deception."
(Thirty years after the disaster, Philip was invited to enter a ballot to be among the six family members on board a commemorative flight to Erebus. He wanted to go, but his name was not drawn out. Then chance intervened.)
"There was another family member who did manage to be one of the lucky six and she said 'look, Philip Keenan and his family never had their loved one returned to them. We were fortunate enough to have a son and brother returned to us. Would it be ok if I gave my ticket to Philip?.' So I was very fortunate to make that trip.
"It was the most amazing view I think I've ever seen. It totally blew away my preconceived notions of Antarctica being this cold, lifeless, dark foreboding place."
(Dianne was 24 and enjoying her dream job when she died, says Philip.) "In one sense I think everyone on the flight, apart from a few brief seconds for those on the flight deck, were just going along merrily. They were with us one minute, and then they were gone. Horrendous for those they left behind. But for them, although their lives were cut short, in some ways it was a blessing they went so quickly and didn't have the horror of knowing what was to come."
The mysteries continued. The podcast explores why it took 30 years before Philip would find out the real reason why his sister was never returned home.