The grandchildren of Captain Jim Collins and his wife, Maria, were among the youngest people in Auckland's packed Holy Trinity Cathedral when hundreds gathered on a sunny Sunday evening to honour those killed 40 years ago on Mt Erebus.

Two of the three grandchildren cradled the roll of honour bearing the names of those killed - 237 passengers and 20 crew - on Flight 901 in crash on November 28, 1979, in Antarctica.

The girls lay the roll to rest beneath a Tree of Life, made from branches woven together by the many gathered for the 40th Anniversary Service in Parnell.

NZ Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy places a memorial branch on the Tree of Life at the Erebus crash memorial service. Photo / Peter Meecham
NZ Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy places a memorial branch on the Tree of Life at the Erebus crash memorial service. Photo / Peter Meecham

Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy, MP David Seymour, Auckland mayor Phil Goff and Malcolm White, Master of the Honourable Company of Air Pilots, were among those at the service.

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Reverend Dr Richard Waugh opened the service by acknowledging the profound sense of loss those affected by the crash would be feeling as the anniversary approached.

"We can only imagine what it would have been like, and pray that such a thing should never happen again," he said.

Goff also acknowledged the disaster's immense effect on family and friends.

"They say time heals pain and it does, but the sense of loss of those close to you never goes away," Goff said.

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Reddy said she could imagine the excitement and curiosity of those aboard the fatal flight.

But she could not begin to imagine the depths of despair felt by the families of those killed, she said.

"There's an old saying: People are lost, but the land endures and so do our memories."

Reddy said the tragedy "indelibly shaped our national narrative".

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"The Erebus disaster was a loss to the entire nation."

She said she will share the 40th anniversary this week with the families of those killed and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Auckland's Government House.

White called the crash "truly an aviation and personal disaster".

Grandchildren of Captain Jim Collins carry the Roll of Honour into the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell Auckland during the 40th Anniversary Service of Air New Zealand Flight TE 901 which crashed int
Grandchildren of Captain Jim Collins carry the Roll of Honour into the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell Auckland during the 40th Anniversary Service of Air New Zealand Flight TE 901 which crashed int

Paul Bushnell gave a stirring reading of Bill Manhire's "Erebus Voices", which was sandwiched between prayers and hymns.

Waugh said the whole country was behind the families and friends of those killed.

"So many New Zealand families stand in solidarity with those affected by Erebus this week, perhaps like never before."