Flight 901 to Mt Erebus

On the 28th November 1979, at 1.50pm New Zealand time, Air New Zealand Flight 901, a Douglas DC 10, registered ZK-NZP, crashed into the lower slopes of Mt Erebus, Antarctica, in ‘whiteout’ conditions, during a scenic tourist flight.

The crew of 20 and 237 passengers on board all perished in the horrific impact.

A couple of years ago I read a biography on Australian artist Sidney Nolan, written in 1987, while he was still very much alive. Sidney had visited Antartcica a number of times and painted scenes of that continent. In this biography he expressed the wish to one day paint the Mt Erebus tragedy.

Nowhere could I find evidence that he did prior to his death.

Well, I’m always open to suggestion. With my background of 30 years in aviation and a surrealist view of the world, that was all I needed.

My painting you see here, should be interpreted ‘symbolically’. I have attempted to convey the first second of impact when the huge jet, travelling at 490 kilometres per hour, starts to disintegrate, the aftermath and mourning of the shocked, bereaved and relatives, the memorial stained glass window in the Anglican Church of St Matthew-in-the-City, Auckland – which is said to symbolise ‘the unity of life and its inevitable brokenness’. I have ‘dragged’ the people, up and out, through this ‘window’ … out into space … in search of those now gone, maybe?

The telephone lines, which I so often incorporate into my art work in various ways, in this case represent the loss of radio contact with the aircraft.

The birds are Skuas, which came to feast on the victims bodies.

Why do I choose such a subject to paint? Well, sometimes the reality of life, is like this. Should I be afraid to face such?

Peter Norvill
August 2010


Peter Norvill
Flight 901 to Mount Erebus  2010
Oil and acrylic on canvas
156 x 128cm

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