'Traumatic job': Retired police officer relives Mt Erebus recovery operation

When an Air New Zealand sightseeing plane crashed into the slopes of Mt Erebus in Antarctica in 1979 all 257 people on board lost their lives.

Among those faced with the gruelling task helping with the recovery mission was Sergeant Greg Gilpin.

Gilpin was appointed as an onsite coordinator and vividly remembers the dangerous and disturbing job.

"It was an extremely difficult and traumatic job completed in very dangerous and trying conditions." 

He said the success of the recovery operation was due to the efforts of a small group of disaster victim identification (DVI) trained police officers, who were assisted by New Zealand mountaineers, the US Navy and other support personnel.

November 28 marks 40 years since the disaster.

Mt Erebus.
Mt Erebus. Photo credit: Newshub.

In the wake of the tragedy, the police's mission was to recover as many of the victims as possible from the ice, return them to New Zealand and later identify them and return them to their families.

Initially, only 11 DVI members travelled to Antarctica for the recovery mission with the first party leaving Christchurch the day after the crash.

A new exhibition at the New Zealand Police Museum in Porirua, opening on Saturday, focuses on the work of police during the complex operation as the 40th anniversary of the tragedy approaches.

It was one of the highest identification rates for a major air disaster at the time.

"The body recovery being completed by so few, really was an incredible effort under the circumstances," Gilpin said.