Five Months After Antarctic Plane Crash, Crew Declared Dead

Antarctic plane crash on Mount Elizabeth
Drew Coleman/Antarctic NZ

Three crew members who were aboard an aircraft that went down in the Antarctic this past January were officially declared dead by a coroner in New Zealand this week as the inquiry into the accident got underway. The small Twin Otter airplane was en route from the South Pole to an Italian research station near Terra Nova Bay when it crashed into the side of a mountain. Pilot Bob Heath, as well as crew members Mike Denton and Perry Anderson, all lost their lives in the crash.

The fatal accident is under investigation by the Canadian Transport Board but since the plane went down in an area of Antarctica that is under the jurisdiction of New Zealand, a coroner from that country had to make the official pronunciation of the death of the crew. During the inquiry, it was revealed that the plane took off on schedule and that the pilot was checking in every hour of the flight as expected. There were no indications of any problems at all right up until the moment that the emergency beacon went off.

While the report hasn’t been able to reveal any mechanical issues with the aircraft, the judge overhearing the investigation stopped short of saying pilot error was the cause of the plane crash. Instead, he seemed to place the blame on the harsh conditions in Antarctica, which could pose problems even for very experienced pilots.The judge also expressed his admiration for the search and rescue teams that put their lives on the line in an attempt to find the missing plane in January. When the aircraft went down, a multinational effort was launched with the hopes of finding survivors. A SAR team even climbed the treacherous slopes of Mount Elizabeth to get a first hand account of the crash site.

Another team is planning to return in October to recover the bodies of the three men which were impossible to retrieve in the deteriorating conditions at the time.