Rail disaster victims named on memorial

By Lin Ferguson -
TANGIWAI MEMORIES: Carel Sietse with a steel step from one of the carriages which plunged into the Whangaehu River.PHOTO/LIN FERGUSON
TANGIWAI MEMORIES: Carel Sietse with a steel step from one of the carriages which plunged into the Whangaehu River.PHOTO/LIN FERGUSON

At the Tangiwai Historic Reserve, the tall stone memorial now has all the names engraved of those who died in the railway disaster on Christmas Eve, 1953.

When the memorial was erected in the 1980s, it had no names - just the date of the rail disaster that killed 151 passengers.

Last year the Ohakune Lions Club decided it was time to record the names of every man, woman and child who died.

Lions' spokesman Carel Sietse said the club had thought about it for a long time and it had always surprised the club that NZ Railways or Kiwirail had never ordered the engravings.

"That disaster was 63 years ago, something should have been done before now."

In 1953, at 10.21pm on Christmas Eve, the Wellington-Auckland overnight express plunged into the flooded Whangaehu River at Tangiwai, 10km west of Waiouru.

The bridge over the Whangaehu had been washed away by a lahar, caused by the collapse of the walls containing the Crater Lake on Mt Ruapehu. Of the 285 passengers and crew on board, 151 died in New Zealand's worst railway accident.

"Now our Lions Club has ensured the names are all there forever."

Carel said at the recent ceremony to mark the engravings, people had attended from all over New Zealand.

"Usually only a few people come along to ceremonies at the reserve but this time we had a big crowd."

Fay Puckey of Tauranga had travelled down to remember her two brothers, Neil and Paul, who had died in the accident.

"She was a lovely woman and so happy we'd had all the names put on the memorial."

She gave Carel a steel step from one of the submerged carriages which her father had dug out of the river bed.

"She said he had found it weeks after the accident, embedded in the silt at the bottom of the river."

The old step, along with some old photographs, would go to the Ohakune Railway Museum this week, he said.

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