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Peter Mahon (judge)

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Peter Mahon (judge)

Peter Mahon
Born (1923-11-01)1 November 1923
Died 11 August 1986(1986-08-11) (aged 62)
Known for His Commission of Inquiry into the crash of Air New Zealand Flight 901

Peter Thomas Mahon QC (1 November 1923 – 11 August 1986) was a New Zealand High Court Judge, best known for his Commission of Inquiry into the crash of Air New Zealand Flight 901 ("Mount Erebus disaster"). His son, Sam Mahon is a well-known artist.


  • Military service 1
  • Early legal career 2
  • Erebus inquiry 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Publications 6

Military service

Born in 1923, Mahon served in 2NZEF as a second lieutenant and spent approximately two years overseas, mostly in Italy.

Early legal career

Mahon began his legal career with the Raymond, Donnelly & Co. He was mentored by Sir Arthur Donnelly. Mahon was junior counsel for the prosecution in the Parker–Hulme murder case in 1954. At the commencement of the trial Mahon was assisting Alan Brown. Brown withdrew during the trial and was later admitted to Sunnyside Hospital.[1]

Erebus inquiry

After the crash of Air New Zealand Flight 901 with loss of all aboard on 28 November 1979, an accident report was released by the chief inspector of air accidents, Ron Chippindale, which cited pilot error as the chief cause of the accident. Public demand led to the formation of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the accident, consisting solely of Mahon. He produced his report on 27 April 1981, which cleared the crew of blame for the disaster and found that the major cause was the reprogramming of the aircraft's navigation computer without the crew being notified. Mahon controversially claimed that Air New Zealand executives engaged in a conspiracy to whitewash the inquiry, covering up evidence and lying to investigators, famously concluding that they had told "an orchestrated litany of lies". His book, Verdict on Erebus, an account of his inquiry, won the New Zealand Book Awards prize for non fiction in 1985.[2]

Mahon retired from the High Court bench in 1982.

In 1983 the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council held that Mahon had acted in excess of his jurisdiction and in breach of natural justice by going on to make findings of a conspiracy by Air New Zealand to cover up the errors of the ground staff. This conclusion was reached on the point of law that those accused of the conspiracy had not been given an opportunity to contest it in Mr Justice Mahon's inquiry: his conclusions that documents had been suppressed, and that witnesses had lied, were not set aside.

In 1985 Mahon was appointed as Commissioner of Inquiry into the 1984 Queen Street riot. In the same year he published Dear Sam, a collection of his letters to his children. He died in August 1986.[3]

In 2008, Mahon was posthumously awarded the Jim Collins Memorial Award by the New Zealand Airline Pilots Association for exceptional contributions to air safety, "in forever changing the general approach used in transport accidents investigations world wide."[4]

In the 1988 TVNZ dramatisation of the inquiry, Erebus: The Aftermath, Mahon was played by Frank Finlay.

See also


  1. ^ Mahon, Sam. My Father's Shadow, A portrait of Justice Peter Mahon. Longacre Press, 2008, p. 124.
  2. ^ "A son's sketch of Peter Mahon".  
  3. ^ "Hon Peter Mahon QC, 1924 – 1986".  
  4. ^ "Mahon posthumously awarded". 1 December 2008. 


  • Verdict on Erebus, Collins, 1984, ISBN 0-00-217213-5
  • Dear Sam, Fontana/Collins, 1985, collection of letters to family and friends
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