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
After 40 years of lying low, one of the air accident inspectors who worked on the investigation into the Erebus crash has come forward in defence of Ron Chippindale and his report, which blamed pilot error.
Milton Wylie worked with chief accident inspector Chippindale when Flight TE-901 slammed into Mt Erebus in November 1979. He says his boss - now deceased - was right when he said Captain Jim Collins was to blame and Justice Peter Mahon was wrong to instead point the finger at Air New Zealand.
"I didn't really want to get involved in this, but I think it's important that the other side of the story is heard. We've heard from the pilot side of it on numerous occasions, but I think there's always two sides of a story. And I don't think ours has been voiced enough. So that's why I got involved today."
(Wylie says he tried to give evidence at the Royal Commission of Inquiry, but was rebuffed by Mahon.) "I produced a fairly detailed brief on the evidence I was going to give, and this was because there were no witnesses, obviously and it relied very heavily on the information from the two flight recorders, the navigation units and the [scene] photographs - all four of which I'd been very heavily involved with and therefore my evidence was vital. However, the judge refused to accept any evidence from me. As a result, he [Mahon] made a lot of statements that were incorrect."
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(Of his reaction to hearing the cockpit voice recorders for the first time, Wylie says): "Well, we're all listening to the tape, and then suddenly towards the end, the Ground Proximity Warning Device sounds, followed shortly by an abrupt ending. Just stopped, the tape recording stopped. We're all somewhat in shock at that stage. Realised that this was the end of the aircraft, and the lives of 257 people."
(He also reveals his concerns about the fact First Officer Graham (Brick) Lucas, who had been an Air Force navigator, on TE-901 was not on the flight deck in the final moments. Wylie believes he could have made a difference to the fatal outcome.) "I knew him personally - a very experienced guy, very forthright. I'm sure if he'd been on the flight deck, he would have had something to say at an earlier stage. Why wasn't he on the flight deck? Another eye, another ear, another brain - and somebody who was certainly not going to sit still and be quiet. He was a very forceful character."