Erebus: Into The Unknown (DVD review).

January 15, 2015 | By | Reply More

On 28 November 1979, an Air New Zealand DC-10 jet with 257 passengers on a sightseeing tour to Antarctica, which was in its ‘summertime’ with perpetual daylight, disappeared somewhere around the Mount Erebus area. This is a remote region, covered in snow and ice, one of the most inhospitable areas of the world. It was later discovered that the plane had crashed into the side of the mountain and all lives of the crew and passengers had been lost.


This is a dramatised documentary about four ordinary New Zealand policemen who were sent to Antarctica with the quest of identifying and recovering the bodies. They would be stationed on the side of the mountain until the task was finished. None of them had any experience of mountaineering or even work on snow-covered surfaces. Although they had some experience of recovering dead bodies, the sheer task dictated by the numbers and conditions on mountain would take them to the limit of endurance. For them, it was like landing on an alien world.

Following a long flight in a military plane to McMurdo base, they were then delivered to the mountain by helicopter. They had to jump without knowing where the ground was because of all the snow churned up by the helicopter’s rotors and once down they had to make their way to tents already prepared for them further up the mountain. Conditions could change within minutes, something they were unused to, and even making it back to a tent in safety was an arduous experience.

The four policemen were two weeks on the side of the mountain. They had to deal with many bodies, some down a crevasse, others horribly mutilated, some almost untouched but frozen in the ice. They couldn’t sleep because of the perpetual daylight and the birds which continually tried to make a feast of the human remains. They were in continual danger from the elements and from uncertain surfaces which could cause them to cascade deep into the layers of ice below. By the time the job was finished, they were all physically and mentally exhausted.

One of the policemen had found the pilot’s notebook which had some pages of flight calculations written within. On returning to New Zealand, the inquiry looked into the disaster but surprisingly the pages had gone missing. There was talk of a conspiracy and a cover-up by Air New Zealand, but nothing concrete came out of the investigation. Pilot error was to blame, so it seemed. There was another investigation made years later but the documentary did not go into this in any great detail. Perhaps more should have been made out of the reasons and causes behind the crash?

The documentary is just over one hour in duration. Okay, that’s a bit short, isn’t it? As far as standards are concerned, it’s more suitable for TV presentation than anything else and undoubtedly this will appear at some time or other on a TV channel. Instead of paying movie price for a DVD, some people may just wait until it comes on television.

The DVD was interesting throughout and it was a really good story, an example of endurance and dedication by ordinary people. There was a feeling after watching that so much more could have been made of the story, not just the policemen but the entire proceedings of the crash itself. The men didn’t go to an untouched crash scene because all the body parts had been marked out with green flags and the crevasses with red flags. Tents had already been pitched for them and there was a sizeable team, including other New Zealanders and Americans, on the scene to do quite a lot of the work involved in a large-scale crash of this nature. Very little was said about this aspect of the disaster and even less was said of the deceased passengers and crew.

The characters of the policemen came through very well with the re-enactments, the old footage and the modern time interviews. They were undoubtedly heroes. It’s a pity they had to wait to the end of their careers and beyond to get full recognition. Undoubtedly, today people would not be asked to do the same tasks, especially without proper training, if only because there would be legal problems which would cost a lot of money. It was only by good luck that the four policemen came back alive!

In conclusion, while a good documentary, you are left wondering about all the other aspects of the crash not covered in the 60 minutes plus presented on the DVD. Maybe you should just wait until it comes on TV? However, if you can’t wait that long it’s a reasonable enough purchase and you will find it interesting.

Rod MacDonald

January 2015

(region 2 DVD: pub: Signature Entertainment. 1 DVD 60 minute film. ASIN: B00OUF23YM. Price: £ 8.99 (UK))

cast: Tama Jarman, Andrew Munro and Niamh Peren

check out website: www.signature-entertainment.co.uk


Category: Culture, Films

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