Tag Archives: Antarctica

28 November 1979, 00:49:50 GMT

Air New Zealand McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 ZK-NZP at London Heathrow Airport, July 1977. (Eduard Marmet via Wikipedia)
Air New Zealand McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 ZK-NZP at London Heathrow Airport, July 1977. (Eduard Marmet via Wikipedia)

28 November 1979: An Air New Zealand sightseeing flight to Antarctica, Flight TE 901, departed Auckland Airport (AKL) on the North Island of New Zealand, at 1917 GMT, 27 November (8:17 a.m., 28 November, local time). The flight was planned to proceed to the vicinity of McMurdo Station at the south end of Ross Island, off the continent of Antarctica, and then return to Christchurch International Airport (CHC) on New Zealand’s South Island. The duration of the flight was estimated to be 11 hours and would travel a total of 5,360 miles (8,626 kilometers), all during daylight hours.

Air New Zealand had previously flown thirteen Antarctic excursions. On this date, the airliner operated as Flight TE 901 was a five year old McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30, registration ZK-NZP. On board the airliner were a flight crew of five, cabin crew of fifteen and 237 passengers.


The pilot in command (PIC) was Captain Thomas James Collins. Captain Collins held an airline transport pilot license with a DC-10 type rating. He had flown a total of 11,151 flight hours, of which 2,872 had been aboard DC-10s. Because of the flight’s planned duration, the crew included two more pilots, First Officer Gregory Mark Cassin and First Officer Graham Neville Lucas. There were also two flight engineers, Flight Engineer Gordon Barrett Brooks and Flight Engineer Nicholas John Maloney. All were very experienced pilots, type-rated in the DC-10. None, however, had previously flown the Antarctic route.

19 days before the flight, Captain Collins and First Officer Cassin had received an audio-visual briefing of the planned flight. They also flew the route in a cockpit simulator. The route of previous flights had taken the airliners from the Ross Sea into McMurdo Sound, well west of Ross Island and its 12,448 foot (3,794 meters) active volcano, Mount Erebus. At a pre-determined waypoint, the airliner turned left toward McMurdo Station. The airline’s minimum altitude through this area was 16,000 feet (4,877 meters) until south of McMurdo Station, and then only if certain weather conditions were present.

Air New Zealand flight planners had discovered that data which had been entered into the aircraft’s Area Inertial Navigation System (AINS) computer was incorrect. The coordinates of the for the destination waypoint were  actually 2˚10′ west of the intended destination waypoint. The intended route was to take TE 901 directly over Mount Erebus to the emergency whiteout landing area near Williams Field (ICAO: NZWD) about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from McMurdo Station on the Ross Ice Shelf. Because of the data error, however, all previous flights had approached from well west of Ross Island before turning toward McMurdo Station at West Dailey Island. The navigation data was corrected, but the flight crew had not been informed of the change or the reason for it.

DC-10 navigation console. (Unattributed)
DC-10 navigation console. (Unattributed)

The flight toward Antarctica proceeded normally. Exactly five hours after takeoff, Captain Collins began a descent from TE 901’s cruising altitude. At this point the airliner was approximately 140 miles (225 kilometers) north of McMurdo Station. First Officer Cassin advised air traffic control, Mac Center, of their descent. The controller acknowledged and gave the current weather at McMurdo as “. . . low overcast in the area at about 2,000 feet [607 meters] and . . . some snow but our visibility is still about 40 miles [64 kilometers]. . . .” In the cockpit, Captain Collins commented that the clouds were lower than previously reported, and that, it would be, “Very hard to tell the difference between the cloud and the ice.”

First Officer Cassin requested descent to 16,000 feet (4,877 meters) but Mac Center directed the flight to “descend and maintain Flight Level 180.” (18,000 feet/5,486 meters)

Over the next six minutes, TE 901 traveled 50 miles as it descended to FL 180. Radio transmissions during the let down were unclear, with Mac Center, Flight 901 and Ice Tower all trying to make contact. It is possible that the high terrain between the airliner and McMurdo Station was blocking the signals. The pilots discussed using other frequencies. Captain Collins and Flight Engineer Brooks discussed the airliner’s present weight and the minimum speed required, which was calculated to be 252 knots.

Satellite image of Ross Island. McMurdo Station is at the tip of the narrow peninsula in the lower left quadrant. (NASA)
Satellite image of Ross Island. McMurdo Station is at the tip of the narrow peninsula in the lower left quadrant. (NASA)
Topographic map of Ross Island, Antarctica (1:250,000 scale) (USGS)

At 00:24:44, the DC-10’s Altitude Alert sounded, indicating that the airplane had reached the assigned altitude of Flight Level 180.

At 00:31:01, Captain Collins told the crew, “I’ll have to do an orbit here I think.” Seven seconds later, he said, “Well actually it’s clear out here if we get down. . .and—” Someone in the cockpit replied, “It’s not clear on the right hand side here.” First Officer Cassin said, “No.”

Captain Collins had observed an opening in the clouds to the left of the airplane, and decided to descend further under visual conditions. He first began a descending 360˚ turn to the right, followed by  a descending 180˚to the left. This put the DC-10 on a course away from McMurdo Station at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Captain Collins and the two flight engineers discussed the desired airspeed. With the flight still continuing outbound, at 00:42:49, Collins said, “We’re VMC [Visual Meteorological Conditions] around this way so I’m going to do another turn in.” The flight’s expert commentator, Peter Mulgrew, had entered the flight deck. Captain Collins said, “Sorry haven’t got time to talk but—” Mulgrew replied, “Ah well you can’t talk if you can’t see anything.” However, Mulgrew remained in the cockpit.

At 00:45:00, First Officer Cassin called McMurdo Center and reported, “. . . we are now at six thousand descending to two thousand and we’re VMC.”

Mount Erebus, the world's southernmost active volcano, with a height of 2,448 foot (3,794 meters). (Tattered Passport)
The world’s most southern active volcano, Mount Erebus on Ross Island, Antarctica, has a height of 12,448 feet (3,794 meters). (Tattered Passport)

Passing through 3,000 feet (914 meters), Flight Engineer Brooks asked, “Where’s Erebus in relation to us at the moment?” Someone answered, “Left about twenty or twenty-five miles.” Someone else asked, “Left do you reckon?” A voice said, “Well I don’t know—I think.” An unknown voice said, “I’ve been looking for it.” Cassin replied, “Yep, yep.” Brooks then said, “I’m just thinking of any high ground in the area, that’s all.”

Mulgrew replied, “I think it’ll be left, yes.” The second flight engineer, Nick Maloney, then said, “Yes, I reckon about here.”  Mulgrew answered, “Yes—no, no, I don’t really know.” Then at 00:47:02, he said, “That’s the edge,” probably indicating that he could see the edge of the ice sheet ahead.

At 00:47:06, a crewmember announced, “Down to two thousand.” Both Collins and Cassin acknowledged this, “Yes.” — “Yes.” The crew then set the flight director to hold airspeed and altitude.

At 00:47:43, Captain Collins said, “We might have to pop down to fifteen hundred here I think.” Cassin replied, “Yes, OK. . . Probably see further in anyway. . . It’s not too bad. . . I see vert speed for fifteen hundred feet.”

Flight Engineer Maloney said, “—It’s not right.” An unknown voice then said, “Bit thick here eh Bert?” Maloney replied, “Yeah my. . . . oath. . . (pause) You’re really a long while on . . . instruments this time are you?” Mulgrew then said, “I reckon Bird’s through here and—Ross Island there.” Maloney answered, “Yes,” and Mulgrew continued, “Erebus should be there.” Captain Collins says, “Right.” For the next forty seconds the crew discussed radio and navigation frequencies.

At 00:49:08, Mulgrew said, “That looks like the edge of Ross Island there.” Cassin attempted to contact McMurdo Tower. At 00:49:24, Maloney said, “I don’t like this.”

At 00:49:30, Captain Collins said, “We’re twenty-six miles north we’ll have to climb out of this.” Someone answered, “OK.” Cassin told Collins, “It’s clear on the right and (well) ahead.” Collins asked, “Is it?” Mulgrew said, “Yes.” Cassin, said, “No negative.” Cassin said, “No high ground if you do a one eighty.”

At 00:49:44 the airliner’s Ground Proximity Warning System is heard: WHOOP WHOOP—PULL UP—WHOOP WHOOP

00:49:48 Flight Engineer Brooks reports, “Five hundred feet.”


Brooks: “Four hundred feet.”


Captain Collins calls, “Go round power please.”


At 00:49:50 GMT, ZK-NZP struck gradually rising terrain at an elevation of 1,467 feet (447 meters) above Sea Level, while flying at 260 knots (299 miles per hour/482 kilometers per hour). The DC-10 was totally destroyed and all 257 persons on board were instantly killed by the impact. The site of the crash was on the north slope of Mount Erebus, approximately 31 miles (50 kilometers) north of McMurdo Station, at Latitude 77˚25’30” South, Longitude 167˚27’30″East.

The navigation computer showed teh position of Flight 901, farther south and slightly left of its actual track—closer to Mount Erebus.
The navigation computer showed the position of Flight 901 a few miles farther to the south and slightly left of its actual track—closer to Mount Erebus. (Transport Accident Investigation Commission)
This detailed graphic shows the flight path an descent of Flight 901 and correlates the FDR data to give an idea of where the airplane actually was and where the crew thought it was..
This detailed graphic shows the flight path and descent profile of Flight TE 901 and correlates CVR and FDR data to give an idea of where the airplane actually was and where the crew thought it was. (Transport Accident Investigation Commission)
Crash site of Air new Zealand Flight 910 on teh slopes of Mount Erebus, Antarctica. (Bereau d'Archives des Accidents d'Avions)
Looking west at the crash site of Air New Zealand Flight TE 910 at an elevation of 1,467 feet (447 meters) above Sea Level, on the north slope of Ross Island, Antarctica. Mount Erebus is at the upper left of the photograph. The terrain has a gradual upward slope of 13˚, and cross slope, right to left, of -5˚. The debris field is aligned on a heading of 190˚ True and is approximately 570 meters long. (Bureau d’Archives des Accidents d’Avions)

The intensive investigation of the accident showed that, based on the route briefing, the flight crew expected to be about 26 miles to the west. In fact, TE 901 had proceeded almost precisely along the planned track. Analysis of the navigation computer showed that its INS position was in error by just 3.1 nautical miles (3.6 miles/ 5.7 kilometers), well within its known tolerance. It was indicating almost the exact location of the flight, if anything, closer to Mount Erebus than it really was.

Much controversy ensued over who was at fault for the position error. Regardless of whether the flight was on the intended track, or on the erroneous track 25 miles west, the crew was fully aware that they were well north of McMurdo Station. Air New Zealand had established a minimum safe altitude of 16,000 feet (4,877 meters) until the flight was south of McMurdo.

3.37     Probable cause: The probable cause of this accident was the decision of the captain to continue the flight at low level toward an area of poor surface and horizon definition when the crew was not certain of their position and the subsequent inability to detect the rising terrain which intercepted the aircraft’s flight path.

AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT REPORT No. 79-139, Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC), New Zealand, Section 3.37 at Page 34.

ZK-NZP was a McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30, s/n 46910, built at the Douglas Aircraft Company’s Long Beach, California, plant during November 1974. It arrived in New Zealand 14 December 1974 for service with Air New Zealand Limited. The –30 was a long range variant of the DC-10 series. It is designed to be operated by a flight crew of three. It is 182 feet, 1 inch (55.499 meters) long with a wingspan of 165 feet, 5 inches (50.419 meters) and overall height of 58 feet, 1 inch (17.704 meters.) One of the original “wide body” jets, the cylindrical fuselage of the DC-10 has a diameter of 19 feet, 9 inches (6.020 meters).

The DC-10-30 was powered by three General Electric CF6-50C turbofan engines, rated at 51,000 pounds of thrust (226.86 kilonewtons) at Sea Level. The CF6-50 is a two-spool, high-bypass-ratio axial-flow turbofan engine. It has a single-stage fan section, with a 17-stage compressor (3 low- and 14 high-pressure stages, and a 6-stage turbine (2 high- and 4 low-pressure stages). The CF6-50C has a maximum diameter of 8 feet, 9.0 inches (2.667 meters), fan diameter of 7 feet, 2.4 inches (2.195 meters) and length of 15 feet, 8.0 inches (4.775 meters). It weighs 7,896 pounds (3,582 kilograms).

The DC-10-30 has an empty weight of 266,191 pounds (120,742 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 572,000 pounds (259,455 kilograms). ZK-NZP, operating as Flight TE 901, had an “all-up weight” of 199,150 kilograms (439,051 pounds), and for the conditions of this flight, the MTOW was calculated to be 253,105 kilograms (558,001 pounds). It’s actual takeoff weight was 246,507 kilograms (543,455 pounds).

The typical cruise speed of the DC-10 is 0.82 Mach (556 miles per hour, or 895 kilometers per hour, at 30,000 feet/9,144 meters) and its service ceiling is 42,000 feet (12,802 meters). The DC-10-30 variant has a maximum range of 6,600 miles (10,622 kilometers).

At the time of the accident, ZK-NZP had flown 20,763 hours since new (TTSN).

The largest remaining fragment of McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 ZK-NZP was this portion of the fuselage and wings.
The largest remaining fragment of McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 ZK-NZP was this portion of the fuselage and wings. (AP Images)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

15 October 1957

Clipper America at McMurdo Sound, 1957. (southpolestation.com)

15 October 1957: A Pan American World Airways Boeing Model 377 Stratocruiser, Clipper America, flies from Christchurch, New Zealand, to the United States Navy’s Antarctic research station on Ross Island in McMurdo Sound.

The flight was to test the feasibility of conducting commercial flights to support the U.S. Navy’s operations in the Antarctic. It origintated with a load of passengers from NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island, and flew to San Francisco, California, then on to Honolulu in the Hawaiian Islands. There, command of the aircraft was assumed by Pan Am’s Seattle Sector Chief Pilot, Captain Ralph Walter Savory, who was considered an expert in Arctic flying.

The Boeing Stratocruiser departed Honolulu and flew to Canton Island (named for a whaling ship that went aground there in 1854). Canton was a frequent waypoint for Pan Am’s transpacific flights. Clipper America remained there overnight, and continued to Fiji the next day. After another overnight stay, the airliner headed to Christchurch on the south island of New Zealand.

Airliner Lands in Antarctica

     MCMURDO SOUND, Antarctica, Oct. 15 (UP) — The Pan American Clipper America landed today at McMurdo Sound, completing the first commercial aircraft flight to Antarctica

     Capt. Ralph Savory, veteran of 23 years of arctic flying, lifted the 73-ton Pan American stratoclipper from the Christchurch runway at 10:25 a.m. and set course for McMurdo Sound.

     PASSENGERS on the 2,400-mile history-making flight included U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand Francis H. Russell; New Zealand Labor Minister J. K. McAlpine, and 36 U.S. Navy officers and men assigned to Geophysical Year scientific stations.

     The crew had two pretty stewardesses, reputedly the first women ever to reach such a southernly point on the “white continent” as the Ross Island Navy Station on McMurdo Sound.

     They were dark-haired Patricia Hepinstall, 25, former model for I. Magnin, San Francisco, and a native of 3752 Garnet St., Houston, Tex., and blonde Ruth Kelly, 28, former school teacher from Holyoke, Colo., who resembles Princess Grace.

     BOTH ARE BASED in San Francisco and are probably the most thrilled members of the plane’s complement. They were to ride in an American versus New Zealand dog sled race and judge a beard-growing contest among the men at McMurdo.

     Seabees and other Navy specialists had a last fling with card games and steaks 21,000 feet in the sky. In a few more hours they would spread to seven scientific stations for 18-month tours of duty on the blizzard-beaten continent.

     TRAVELING as a passenger was Navy Capt. William F. (Trigger) Hawkes, air officer for Rear Adm. George Dufek, commander of “Operation Deepfreeze.” Hawkes is considered to have more Antarctic flying experience than any other pilot.

The Honolulu Advertiser, 101st year, No. 34,083, Tuesday, 15 October 1957, Page 2, Columns 3–5

“Shown just after climbing down from their nice, warm Clipper at McMurdo Sound is the crew that was on Pan Am’s Antarctic flight. Kneeling are 2nd Officer Earl Lemon, Stewardess Pat Hepinstall, Flight Engineer George Coppin, and 2nd Officer Bob Finley. Standing are Captain Don McLennan, Purser John Bell, Sterwardess Ruth Kelly, Flight Engineer Al Loeffler, 1st Officer Roy Moungovan, and the Aircraft Commander, Captain Ralph Savory.” (Pam Am Museum Foundation)

Following this flight to the Antarctic, Captain Savory was asked for his opinion as to the route’s viability. Because there was no alternate airport should landing at McMurdo not be possible (because of weather, or some other factor), Savory said that it was too dangerous for commercial operations. No further flights were made.

Pan American World Airways Boeing Model 377 Stratocruiser, N1022V, Clipper America. (Boeing)

Pan American’s Clipper America was a Boeing Model 377-10-26 Stratocruiser, N1030V, serial number 15930. The airliner was delivered to Pan American on 30 March 1949 and named Clipper Southern Cross. Later the name was changed to Clipper Reindeer, and finally, Clipper America. (Nearly all of Pan Am’s Stratocruisers were named Clipper America at some time during their service with the airline.)

Marie Machris Westbrook. (Los Angeles Times)

On 27 July 1952, N1030V was operating as Flight 201 from Rio de Janeiro when a passenger cabin door opened at 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). A passenger, Mrs. Marie Elizabeth Machris Westbrook, was sucked out of her seat and fell to the Atlantic, below. The airliner safely returned to Rio. “Pan American officials were unable to explain how the door could have opened accidentally.” ¹ ²

N1030V was removed from service with Pan Am in 1961, and on 2 February 1962, delivered to Israeli Aircraft Industries, registered 4X-AOH. The airliner was converted to a military transport. In November 1962, it was placed in service with the Israeli Air Force, re-registered 4X-FOH, and finally, 4X-FPV.

The Boeing 377 was a large, four-engine civil transport which had been developed, along with the military C-97 Stratofreighter, from the World War II B-29 Superfortress long-range heavy bomber. It utilized the wings and engines of the improved B-50 Superfortress. The airplane was operated by a flight crew of four. It was a double-deck aircraft, with the flight deck, passenger cabin and galley on the upper deck, and a lounge and cargo compartments on the lower. The airliner was pressurized, and could maintain Sea Level atmospheric pressure while flying at 15,500 feet (4,724 meters). The Model 377 could be configured to carry up to 100 passengers, or 28 in sleeping births.

The Stratocruiser was 110 feet, 4 inches (33.630 meters) long with a wingspan of 141 feet, 3 inches (43.053 meters) and overall height of 38 feet, 3 inches (11.659 meters). Empty weight was 83,500 pounds (37,875 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 148,000 pounds (67,132 kilograms).

Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 377-10-26 Stratocruiser N1030V, circa 1952. The airliner is carrying the name Clipper Southern Cross. (R.A. Scholefield Collection)

The airliner was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged 4,362.49-cubic-inch-displacement (71.489 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major B6 four-row, 28-cylinder radial engines which had a Normal Power rating of 2,650 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m., and 2,800 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. Maximum Continuous. It produced 3,250 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff (3,500 horsepower with water injection). The engines drove four-bladed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic 24260 constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 17 feet, 0 inches (5.182 meters) through a 0.375:1 gear reduction. The Wasp Major B6 was 8 feet, 0.50 inches (2.451 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.00 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,584 pounds (1,626 kilograms).

The 377 had a cruise speed of 301 miles per hour (484 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour). During testing by Boeing, a 377 reached 409 miles per hour (658 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 32,000 feet (9,754 meters) and the range was 4,200 miles (6,759 kilometers).

Boeing built 56 Model 377 Stratocruisers, with Pan American as the primary user, and another 888 military C-97 Stratofreighter and KC-97 Stratotankers.

Captain Ralph Walter Savory, Pan American World Airways Master Pilot. (University of Alaska Fairbanks UAF-2008-31-16b)

Captain Ralph Walter Savory, Pan American World Airways Master Pilot, was born 14 October 1909, in Bennett Valley, Sonoma County, California. He was the second child of Walter Adrian Savory, a farmer, and Lillian Frances Philips Savory.

Ralph Savory attended Santa Rosa High School, where he was president of the aeronautics club. He graduated in 1928, then studied at Santa Rosa Junior College. He moved to San Francisco and worked as a mechanic to pay for flight lessons at “Speed” Johnson’s Flying School at San Mateo. He earned his private pilot certificate, No. 8105, in August 1929.

Ralph W. Savory’s Pilot’s Identification Card, issued by the Department of Commerce, 1 September 1929. (University of Alaska Fairbanks UAF-2009-31-7d)

Ralph W. Savory married Ms. Ida Scott (née Ida Elfreda Koffer) at Berkeley, California, 31 March 1934. The marriage was officiated by L.L. Cross Miu. They would have one child, Diane.

Savory and a friend bought a Curtiss Thrush. In 1933, Savory was issued a commercial pilot certificate. In 1935, he had the Thrush shipped to Alaska where he began flying in the remote parts of the territory (“bush flying”).

Ralph Savory’s Curtiss Thrush, 1935 (University of Alaska Fairbanks UAF-2009-31-1)

After a year gaining experience, Savory was hired as a pilot for Star Air Service (a predecessor of Alaska Airlines). He flew for Star for just under two years and then went to work for Pacific Alaska Airways in late 1938. This company was taken over by Pan American Airways.

During World War II, Pan American operated transport flights for the U.S. military. Flight crews were commissioned as reserve officers. Ralph Savory was commissioned a lieutenant, United States Naval Reserve, 22 July 1943, with date of precedence retroactive to 26 April 1943.

Following the war, Savory helped expand Pan Am’s operations in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. He was designated as a Master Pilot and made sector chief pilot at Seattle.

In 1958 Captain Savory was one of the first of Pan Am’s pilots to be trained in the new turbojet-powered Boeing 707 airliner. As one of the world’s most experienced commercial pilots, Captain Savory retired in 1969.

Captain and Mrs. Savory in the cockpit of a Pan American World Airways Boeing 707-320, just prior to his final flight from London, England, to Seattle, Washington, U.S.A., 13 October 1969. He reached the mandatory retirement age effective at midnight on that date. (University of Alaska Fairbanks UAF-1993-28-1)

Mrs. Savory died in 1992. Two years later, Savory married Ms. Gladys T. Crum (née Gladys Theawilla Worden). She also died, in 2000.

Captain Ralph Walter Savory died at Spring Lake Village, Santa Rosa, California, 18 January 2010, at the age of 99 years.

¹ The Pittsburgh Press, Vol. 69, No. 35, Monday, 28 July 1952, Page 2, Columns 2 and 3

² For additional information about this incident, see Aviation Safety Network at  https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19520727-1

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes