updated 10/22/2009 8:21:39 PM ET 2009-10-23T00:21:39

New Zealand's national carrier apologized Friday to the families of victims of the nation's worst air disaster — 30 years after it happened.

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Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe unveiled a memorial Friday to the 257 people who died when a DC10 airliner slammed into Mount Erebus in Antarctica on Nov. 28, 1979 during a sightseeing flight. It remains New Zealand's worst peacetime disaster.

"Sorry to everyone affected who did not receive the compassion and support they should have from Air New Zealand," Fyfe told a crowd of hundreds at the airline's headquarters, including families of some of the victims.

He said he hoped the apology would make up for "many of the gaps and failings that occurred in the days, months and years" after the disaster.

But Fyfe said he would not go so far as apologizing for the accident itself or the airline's actions during investigations into its cause.

An investigation by New Zealand's then chief air accident investigator attributed the disaster to pilot error, though a subsequent subjudicial inquiry concluded the airliner's navigational computers had been incorrectly programmed and accused airline executives of covering up evidence and misleading investigators.

Fyfe told the audience at Friday's ceremony that victims' families did not receive enough support in the aftermath of the disaster. Families received some financial compensation but many relatives complained of a lack of communication or emotional support.

Jackie Nankervis, who was 15 when her father and uncle died in the crash, told Wellington's Dominion-Post newspaper the only direct contact her family received from the airline immediately after the crash was a bunch of flowers. Most liaison with victims' families was handled by the police.

Nankervis said Fyfe's apology Friday was "a step in the right direction."

Air New Zealand will mark the actual anniversary of the crash by flying five representatives of passengers, flight crew and cabin crew to New Zealand's Antarctic outpost, Scott Base, then to the crash site on the flank of Mount Erebus for a memorial ceremony.

Messages from family members would be placed in a capsule at the crash site.

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