Erebus: Into the Unknown (3 stars)

Erebus: Into the Unknown

Chilling yet stirring documentary from Charlotte Purdy and Peter Burger

On 28 November 1979 a flight took off from New Zealand loaded with 257 passengers heading on a sightseeing tour over Antarctica. They would never be seen alive again. This documentary mixes archive footage, interviews and reconstructions to bring to life the tragic events, investigation and herculean recovery effort to return the bodies to their families.

Flight TE901 smashed into the side of Mount Erebus, a 4000m active volcano and the second highest volcano in Antarctica. A team of police officers were assembled and set off for the crash site; none of them were trained mountaineers, just regular cops. Out of their depth and comfort zone this was way beyond anything they had experienced before. The conditions were treacherous, with miles and miles of snow, ice and rock separating them from civilisation. And what greeted them was horrifying: a scene of utter devastation. The crash site was strewn with mutilated corpses, luggage and mechanical debris. The bodies were frozen solid. The photos from the scene are enough to make your blood run cold.

The officers spent 14 days perched on the side of this remote, unforgiving mountain, working 12-hour shifts, often having to chip body parts from blocks of ice. Their work was not only physically exhausting it was emotionally challenging and hugely distressing, pushing the entire team to the very limits of endurance.

How and why trained pilots had crashed into the side of a mountain became a matter of great controversy. Erebus: Into the Unknown, directed by Charlotte Purdy and Peter Burger, delves into the accusations of a cover up by Air New Zealand but this rather short, heartfelt documentary wisely makes its primary focus the courageous men who risked their lives for the sake of the many relatives left behind.

Limited release from Fri 9 Jan.

Erebus: Into The Unknown | Official Trailer

Erebus: Into the Unknown

  • 3 stars
  • 2014
  • New Zealand
  • 1h 8min
  • 12
  • Directed by: Charlotte Purdy
  • Cast: Tama Jarman, Andrew Munro, Niamh Peren

Documentary on the the 1979 crash of Air New Zealand Flight 901 into Mt Erebus in Antarctica. The film discusses the question of whether the airline was involved in a cover-up, but the focus is on the courage and endurance of the team of police officers who had to recover the bodies of the passengers from the crash site.