The 1968 sinking of the inter island ferry Wahine was considered to be one of the worst maritime disasters in New Zealand’s history. Radio and television captured the drama as it happened within a short distance from the shore of the eastern suburbs of Wellington. Had the ship broken up immediately – all 734 lives would have been lost. The fact that only 52 died is a miracle.
Maori Television premieres THE WAHINE DISASTER, an extraordinary documentary on Wednesday April 9 at 8.30 PM, forty years to the day the Wahine set sail.
Many of the survivors and rescuers speak for the first time
On that day in April, 1968 – the country’s newest inter-island ferry Wahine set sail on her overnight journey from Lyttleton. She was also setting sail into the heart of the most violent storm in New Zealand’s history. Over 730 people were on board.
The hour long documentary, made by Storm UK Productions, follows passengers as they boarded the ferry on that “beautiful calm night” – right through to the end of the journey. One that would change all their lives.
In this extraordinary tale, the survivors and rescuers share their harrowing stories.
David – a six-year-old boy had no idea the ship was sinking until it lurched and he was thrown into the rails – broke his ankle and fell overboard. The heavy seas stripped him of both his life jacket and clothes. Naked, he recalls clinging to a piece of wood for hours. “ Older people tried to hang on to the side – but I was too young to help them, they let go and went under”. David was found hours later unconscious – washed up among the rocks.
Diane and her husband Ken tell of their horror as someone from the deck threw them a baby – as their lifeboat drifted from Wahine. The baby went straight into the water – its shawl unravelling and they never saw it resurface.
Eyewitnesses to the “the blackest day in Wellington’s history” tell their story too. Stuart opened his curtains “to see this huge passenger liner coming straight towards my house”. He was the first to call the police.
Every New Zealander should watch THE WAHINE DISASTER – to learn what it is to have the courage to survive, the courage to risk your own lives to save others. They will also learn of the extent of the personal tragedy suffered by so many that day.
Producer/director Sharon Barbour says the story of the Wahine has fascinated her since childhood and she has been working on this for many years.
“Quite a few of those survivors haven’t talked about their experience up until now – and their recounting of their own stories has incredible power.”
It is a story which has taken years to research and which has remained largely untold – until now. THE WAHINE DISASTER, only on Maori Television April 9 at 8.30 PM.