49 years ago today, on the 10th of April 1968, the passenger ferry Wahine, buffeted by gale-force winds, ran aground on Barrett Reef at the entrance to Wellington Harbour, listed, and then sank. Fifty-one of the 734 passengers and crew on the Wahine died that day, most of them on the rocks at Pencarrow on the Eastbourne coast. Another two died later from their injuries.
“The loss of life was tragic and those 53 will always be remembered,” says Rhys. “But it was thanks to the courageous actions of many others in the face of treacherous conditions, that such a large number survived.”
“This tragedy led to improved safety procedures on ships and prompted the creation of two significant rescue services: the Wellington Volunteer Coastguard and the Life Flight Trust.”
The Wahine 50 charitable Trust, is working with local councils and others to plan and deliver a day of events to mark the 50th anniversary of the Wahine disaster – on 10 April 2018.
Plans include a dawn service at Eastbourne; a midday event on Wellington’s waterfront; a reunion lunch for survivors, rescuers, and family members of those on board; and an afternoon visit to the Wahine memorials at Seatoun. Interviews of survivors, rescuers and families of those involved will be filmed to help ensure future generations understand the very intense personal experiences many had 50 years ago, and the impact it had on their lives.
A survivor of the disaster Kay McCormick says that she would wake from her sleep screaming. The impact of the event led her to offload the experience in paintings and poems. “I thought we would all die. It was a very big storm and you know where the ship sunk, the land was very near but you couldn't see it it was just clouds and spew from the sea. It was a terrible day. “
“My nursing friend Anne Sitting on the floor in the corridor outside in the lunch and the couple who sat with us all day 8 hours, didn't talk just eyes shut praying. Holding on to one and other praying. And I don't know what happened to them.”
Chairman of The Wahine Charitable Trust Rhys Jones says that the disaster was a catalyst for change and two key rescue services were founded as a direct result.
“The Wellington Coastguard was formed. Peter Button who was standing on the shore watching the rescue agency said to himself there has to be a better way and he went on to form the very first helicopter life flight in New Zealand.”
The Charitable Trust is working with local councils and others to plan and deliver a day of events to mark the 50th anniversary of the Wahine disaster - on 10 April 2018.