Don Milne: Horrendous sight of 14 bodies laid out in a line

Former Herald deputy editor Don Milne, now 77, was one of the first reporters on the scene of the Brynderwyn Hills crash 50 years ago.

Don Milne. Photo / File photo
Don Milne. Photo / File photo

There are some sights you never forget, even after 50 years.

It was an ordinary day in the office, not much happening, until the call came through: bus crash on the Brynderwyns, many dead and injured.

I was the Herald's science correspondent, not usually covering such stories.

But there were only two of us, senior reporter Geoffrey Lee-Martin and me, available to climb into a car and head north.

The scene, at the foot of Pilbrow Hill, was horrific.

This wreckage, lying on its side by the stream, did not look like a bus. The body had been torn away and all the seats were wiped off, except a few at the front.

But worse was the bodies laid out in a line beside the stream, covered with grey blankets. Fourteen of them.

I climbed up the hill to where the bus, its brakes failed, had ploughed through the fence on the last bend to fall 30m into the gully.

Had the driver been able to negotiate that bend, there might have been no deaths - injuries, certainly, but nothing on the scale of this tragedy, the worst on our roads.

Later, there were more comforting scenes to cover - the wonderful effort at Whangarei Hospital, where a special ward was set up to cope with the 21 injured; Minister of Maori Affairs Ralph Hanan and his small team working tirelessly on identification of the dead and injured, and the sad task of notifying relatives. Few slept that night.

Later it emerged that the dead, mainly from the Helensville area, included four generations of one family - matriarch Beryl Abraham, her daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter.

Covering the tangi at Reweti Marae three days later reinforced for me the terrible impact the accident had on that family and so many others.

But the abiding image is of that awful, heart-rending scene by the stream. It never fails to come back, every time I drive over that road.

- NZ Herald

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