Former Rotorua police forensic photographer Rick Pak is among those honoured for their painstaking work in the wake of New Zealand's worst disaster - the Mt Erebus crash of more than 27 years ago.

Another Rotorua officer Senior Constable Tony (Tiny) Taylor has also been accorded the New Zealand Special Service Medal but will miss today's ceremony in Auckland as he is overseas.

The medal has been awarded by the Government to those involved in Operation Overdue to acknowledge their painstaking work helping identify the bodies of the 257 people killed when Air New Zealand DC10 flight TE901 slammed into Mt Erebus while on an Antarctic sightseeing expedition on November 28, 1979.

Mr Pak was 29, a husband and the father of two young children when he was assigned to work at the mortuary set up in Auckland to receive the bodies and items from the wreckage strewn across the slopes of the Antarctic's active volcano.

His job was to photograph bodies and personal belongings for identification.

Mr Pak, who now works on the Gold Coast as a water compliance and enforcement officer, said news of the medal's presentation had brought back both good and bad memories.

"I worked with some amazing people in Auckland during Operation Overdue.

"It will be good to catch up with those colleagues. I remember the overcrowding in the morgue with bodies and body parts stacked up everywhere."

He recalls the feelings he carried at the time.

"The smell of fuel and burnt flesh was terrible. It took me a while to get over the initial shock and horror of seeing so many dead people with various injuries. It was just part of the job," he said.

However, the job was carried out by a professional team who did everything they possibly could to identify all the bodies, Mr Pak said.

"Everyone rallied together and were totally professional throughout the whole operation.

"It was about identifying the deceased so their families could lay them to rest."

A total of 218 people have been nominated by the defence force to receive the service medals. Today's ceremony will see 179 honoured. Future ceremonies will acknowledge the remainder of those involved in the recovery operation.

Police Minister Annette King said the medals acknowledged the work of people from many different agencies who worked tirelessly to give family members their loved ones for burial.

"This medal recognises the work of extraordinary individuals who undertook the recovery, investigation and identification work in the aftermath of the Erebus disaster, an unparalleled tragedy in our history."