Out in selected cinemas on 9th January and available DVD/VOD from 12th January, Erebus: Into the Unknown tells the true story of the men who came face to face with one of the world’s worst aviation disasters and became part of one of the most extraordinary police operations in history.
On November 28th 1979, a jet with 257 passengers went missing during a sightseeing tour over Antarctica. Within hours eleven ordinary police officers were called to duty to face the formidable Mount Erebus. But as the police recovered the victims an investigation team tried to uncover the mystery of how a jet could fly into a mountain in broad daylight, did the airline have a secret they tried to bury?
Directed by Charlotte Purdy, who cleverly mixes the format of documentary and factual cinema, she uses face to face interviews with key men from the search and rescue team - Stuart Leighton, Greg Gilpin, Mark Penn and leader Robert Mitchell. Mitchell led the team from the ground while the three other gentlemen along with other policeman, mountaineers and volunteers led the investigation of the crash site to save bodies. Of the 257 passengers, 214 bodies were brought home for burial, this remains the highest percentage return from an aviation disaster.
The film makes clear though that due to the cold climate there was a greater chance of reclaiming more bodies, however, the harsh reality of the elements come to the fore in the recreated scenes and the testimonies of the heroes.
Leighton was 22 when he went to Antarctica, and you can still see the fear in his eyes when he recounts the memories. Gilpin was fearful of never seeing his two daughters again, while Penn was the gun ho individual who saw it as a great opportunity for his career. Many people reacted to things differently, even when facing the same challenge of constant daylight, huge emotional turmoil and the chattering of birds that keep you awake.
Purdy does take moments to reflect upon the beauty of the surroundings by having characters sit and look upon the landscape and juxtapose the devastation of the crash site with the beauty of the snow, there is some poetic lyricism somewhere out in the wilderness.
However, the methods used in the middle of nowhere by Mitchell and co-ordinated by Gilpin led to those same methods to be used in crash sites from there on. The work led to some answers for the bereaved families and the discovery of the pilot's log led to the realisation of the wrong co-ordinates being relayed.
Hence, this could be considered the first big business cover up of an aviation disaster. And in this day and age of airplanes missing and more answers required for more bereaving families, this film could offer hope to those related to the crashes involving Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and Air Asia QZ8501.