Families of Erebus victims receive an apology from the Government 40 years on

Forty years after the Erebus tragedy which claimed 257 lives, the Government and Air New Zealand have finally issued a formal apology.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday met with the victims' families at Government House in Auckland and said the time has come to say she's sorry.

"In making this apology, I speak for and with Air New Zealand," Ardern said.

"Today [Thursday] I want to speak in recognition of the fact that in 1979 so much was lost. Time hasn't diminished any of that."

The incident has been mired in controversy since the tragic day. All 257 people on board were killed when Air New Zealand flight TE901 crashed into Mt Erebus in Antarctica in 1979.

Air New Zealand chair Dame Therese Walsh apologised for the way families were treated - saying they should have taken better care of them.

Mt Erebus.
Mt Erebus. Photo credit: Newshub.

"While words will never bring back those lost on Mt Erebus this day 40 years ago, I would like to express regret on behalf of Air New Zealand for the accident.

"I apologise on behalf of the airline which 40 years ago failed in its duty of care to its passengers and staff."

The crash was originally blamed on the pilots, but they were later exonerated in the Mahon report, a Royal Commission of Inquiry led by Justice Peter Mahon.

In 2009, then Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe apologised to the families of the victims. He admitted the airline had made mistakes in the aftermath of the tragedy and apologised to families who did not get enough support.

Despite the crash's place in our country's history, there is still no national memorial for the victims. 

After consultation with the victims' families, it was recently announced that a national memorial is planned to be constructed in Auckland's Dove-Myer Robinson Park, better known as the Parnell Rose Gardens. 

But that project too has been controversial, with locals saying it would destroy the ambience of the park. 

The memorial would be funded by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and cost $3 million. It is called Te Paerangi Ataata - Sky Song.

Phil Stewart, whose aunt Dawn Matthews died in the incident, told The AM Show he was confident the right site had been chosen for the memorial.

"I don't think there'll ever be total agreement on what the appropriate place is, but I think the families are generally pretty happy with the process that went to picking the Parnell Rose Garden and I think Auckland's an appropriate place because it's probably where more families than anywhere else would be close to there."