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Reverend Richard Waugh. Photo: Supplied

Erebus 40 years on: 'These sort of disasters... cut very, very deep'

Families of those killed in the Erebus disaster are meeting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy today - the disaster's 40th anniversary. 

Families of those killed in New Zealand's greatest peace-time disaster are meeting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy in Auckland today.

A private ceremony is being held at Government House to mark 40 years since the crash of Air New Zealand Flight TE901 on Mt Erebus in Antarctica in 1979, with the loss of 257 lives.

Reverend Richard Waugh told Morning Report the event would be an important event for the 350-odd people attending the event who were relatives of the victims.

"Anniversaries always have sort of a power of their own don't they, and I think the 40th anniversary seems to be giving a new focus to the people who were actually aboard flight 901 and the very difficult times all families went through, so I've just been delighted and seeing this anniversary time. So many of the families sharing very openly and very willingly about their loved ones - who they were, how they enjoyed life, what the scenic flight mean to them and how pained the families were after the numbness of the accident.

"In my work for the Erebus memorial I've been working with the families for a number of years and I think it's been a lot for them to process so I think this level of pastoral care and, you know, kindness as it's been described to the Erebus families is very important, and I think New Zealanders in many respects have learnt so much more about better recognition of trauma and its effects for the families themselves and for those who are first responders.

Well, I think compared to, you know, 1979, we've learned a lot as ... the Canterbury earthquake situation, the Pike River situation, just that simple recognition that these sort of disasters you know, cut very, very deep. And it's not a case of just sort of get over it in five minutes.

Read more: White Silence: Film captures last images of passengers before Erebus crash

"Unfortunately for the Erebus families, much of the controversy in the 1980s kind of, you know, overshadowed what as rightfully needed in terms of proper care for them and I think we're seeing a new level of care and sensitivity and understanding that wasn't in place all those years ago."

Other commemorations today include a ceremony at Scott Base in Antarctica.

At 12.49pm, staff will gather at a Koru memorial on the hill above the base for a short reading, a message from Prime Minister Jacinda Adern, and a moment's silence.

In Auckland, there will be a service and wreath laying at the Erebus Crew Memorial garden at Auckland Airport.

The Erebus crash killed all on board, including 20 crew members.