In the eerie and tragic aftermath of White Island this week, I cannot help but reflect on some unfinished business.
After Judge Peter Mahon released his Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Erebus disaster report on April 27, 1981, I was elected technical director of the New Zealand Pilots' Association at the annual conference in June 1981. My tenure concluded in June 1985.
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After the 1981 conference, I was asked by the late Captain Gordon Vette, one of the principal participants in the inquiry, to undertake three requests.
The first was to do with Air New Zealand's operations specifications and the second with associated problems with our civil aviation administration. These were fixed, more or less, straight away.
The third request was to get the Attorney-General, and hence the Government, to initiate an automatic Commission of Inquiry should there be a disaster where six or more people were killed.
So far, I have had no success with subsequent Attorney-Generals.
I now think the time is right to bring it to fruition.
Given all the disasters since the 1967 Strongman Mine disaster that killed 19 people, I think the number of fatalities should be 10, which would justify the expense of a Commission of Inquiry.
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Since Strongman, we have had Wahine (53 dead), Erebus (257 dead), Cave Creek (14 dead), Pike River mine (29 dead), Christchurch earthquake (185 dead), the mosque shootings (51 dead) and we wait to hear the final toll from Whakaari/White Island.
Some of these had just Courts of Inquiries, and it is commendable that the present Government has initiated a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Attack on Christchurch Mosques, which is scheduled to be released on April 20, 2020.
It is regrettable that the only disaster inquiry not initially covered by some form of court of inquiry was the Erebus disaster.
The National Transport Safety Board in the US now has public hearings to gather sworn testimony and allow the public to observe. To what extent participants are cross-examined by legal counsel I do not know at this stage.
When I look at most inquiries into disasters in other countries they are often not handled particularly well. Relatives of victims are not given the opportunity to either be present or to have counsel cross-examine people. Sure it may be costly, but it must be worth it for everyone's peace of mind.
The US is getting close but New Zealand could lead the world in having a mandatory Commission of Inquiry triggered whenever 10 or more people are killed in any form of accident or disaster.
I participated into the Commission of Inquiry into Air Traffic Control Services in 1982 on behalf of the New Zealand Pilots' Association. It was extremely well conducted. The subsequent result was that we went from a very deficient air traffic control to one as good as any, once all the new systems etc were implemented.
This week, I am more convinced than ever there needs to be more than a plain inquiry after such devastating events which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern initially indicated for the White Island tragedy.
• David Clemow is a retired Air New Zealand captain and qualified junior meteorologist.