BRAVE: David Armstrong receives his medal from New Zealand High Commission military adviser Lieutenant-Colonel Darren Beck yesterday.ONE of only four Australians to help with the recovery effort after New Zealand’s worst air disaster in Antarctica in 1979 has been honoured with a special medal.
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David Armstrong, of Jewells, was presented yesterday with the New Zealand Special Service Medal at Greenleaf Retirement Village.

Mr Armstrong was an air dispatch Warrant Officer in the army helping unload supplies at the McMurdo Base in Antarctica in November 1979 when Air New Zealand flight 901 crashed into Mount Erebus, killing all 257 on board.

The flight was the first commercial route to Antarctica for sight seeing and on its 14th trip when the plane flew into the mountain in total ‘‘whiteout’’ conditions.

David Armstrong and his three men were Australia’s contribution to the recovery effort.

The men, whose day job was directing and unloading planes, had the daunting task over the next fortnight of recovering and identifying bodies and belongings, all in sub-zero conditions.

Mr Armstrong, 74, now suffering Parkinson’s disease, said he developed a stutter and shake because of the stress.

‘‘Nobody was to be blamed and everybody got on with the job,’’ he said.

‘‘You imagined what it would be like if your family was on the craft.’’

The special service medal was approved in 2006 and the New Zealand government has been tracking down those involved.

New Zealand High Commission military adviser Lieutenant-Colonel Darren Beck said rescue workers all went above their call of duty during an unprecedented event.

Those involved have spoken of working 24 hours a day covered in black human grease from burned bodies, warding off circling birds, surviving freezing conditions and finally being stranded by bad weather with supplies running low.

‘‘It was the work of people involved that really made it a little easier for families and brought closure to the lives of their loved ones,’’ Lieutenant-Colonel Beck said.