Butterflies released at memorial for Air New Zealand crew who died in Erebus disaster

Ceremonial water from Mt Erebus' slopes and a cluster of butterflies were part of a memorial service to the victims of the 1979 disaster today.

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Transport Minister Phil Twyford spoke at the memorial for the 20 Air New Zealand staff who died in the 1979 crash. Source: 1 NEWS

Today marks 40 years since TE901's fatal voyage, with the Auckland Airport memorial a tribute to the 20 crew members killed on board the flight. In total 257 people died on the Air New Zealand sightseeing flight to Antarctica.

After wreaths were laid at the memorial, relatives and those who knew the victims watered the garden with melted ice from Mt Erebus' slopes, supplied by Antarctica New Zealand.

At the event, Transport Minister Phil Twyford called the Erebus disaster "an event that changed our nation".

"Those of you who were alive at the time… will never forget that when we heard about the tragedy and the agonising wait while we waited for the news," he said.

New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association (NZALPA) president, Captain Andrew Ridling, said the tragedy has had long-lasting impact.

"For New Zealanders, the word 'Erebus' is not just a mountain on a cold distant continent," he said.

"It is now a by-word for a dark time we hope we will never experience again."

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He spoke of colleagues who had followed their family's footsteps into the aviation industry, despite losing them to the disaster.

"Other NZALPA members recollect the incredible efforts the association went to, to protect colleagues and their families' rights and their professional reputations in the tumultuous months that followed from unfair conjecture and blame," he said.

"As we come together today, we are reminded that steel, technological developments and company profits do not make an industry - it is the dedication, skills and the shear hard mahi of the people and those who support them that is aviation's lifeblood.

"And it is days like today that remind us of this."

A minute of silence was held at 1.49pm, marking the time the Air New Zealand flight crashed into the side of the Antarctic volcano.

Some of the 20 monarch butterflies released to mark the Erebus anniversary stayed to feed at the flowers by the Auckland Airport memorial. Source: 1 NEWS

After wreaths were laid at the memorial, a cluster of 20 monarch butterflies were released to represent the dead crew members.

At an event in Auckland held at the same time, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern apologised on behalf of the Government for the crash and its aftermath.

"We will never know your grief, but I know the time has come to say I am sorry," she said.