Mahon posthumously awarded

01:43, Jan 31 2009
AIR HISTORY: Justice Mahon's findings on the cause of the 1979 Air New Zealand crash on Mt erebus in Antarctica changed the approach to transport investigations worldwide, the New Zealand Airline Pilots Association says. The Association is to award Justice Mahon posthumously.

The judge who coined one of the most famous phrases in aviation legal history is to get a posthumous award for his contribution to aviation safety.

Justice Peter Mahon accused Air New Zealand of an "orchestrated litany of lies" in his finding on the cause of the crash of the DC10 aircraft on Mt Erebus on November 29, 1979, which killed all 257 passengers and crew.

In his report released in 1981 he said DC10 pilot Jim Collins was not told of a last-minute change to the flight path co-ordinates, and neither he, First Officer Greg Cassin, nor the flight engineers, made any error which contributed to the disaster during a sight-seeing flight.

Air NZ challenged Justice Mahon's accusation of a "predetermined plan of deception" and the Court of Appeal overturned the finding, saying the judge had exceeded his terms of reference.

Justice Mahon resigned, and died in 1986 but his comments echoed around the world.

Now the New Zealand Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) said it would posthumously present Justice Mahon with the Jim Collins Memorial Award for exceptional contributions to air safety.


"It is for his sterling work, in forever changing the general approach used in transport accidents investigations world wide," said ALPA executive director Rick Mirkin.

He said Justice Mahon's family would be at an international conference of airline pilots in Auckland next year to be presented with the award.

Mr Mirkin said ALPA would also launch a website which would be the "definitive source of information in the world on the whole Erebus accident and the aftermath and the air accident investigation process that ensued, that was so instructive for so many people around the world.

"The intention is to present the facts and let people draw their own conclusions. It is not going to be a blame and shame operation," he said.

The 1979 crash could have claimed the life of one of New Zealand's most famous sons.

Everest conqueror, Sir Edmund Hillary, was to be a commentator on the DC10, but could not go and his close friend Peter Mulgrew stepped in at the last minute.

Mr Mulgrew's widow June and Sir Edmund later married.

Sir Ed, who died earlier this year, lost his first wife and daughter in a plane crash in Nepal in 1975.