Home' Greymouth Star : December 21st 2013 Contents Greymouth Star
4 - Saturday, December 21, 2013
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uLetters to the editor
1846 - First surgical operation under
anaesthesia in Britain is performed at
University College Hospital.
1898 - Radium is discovered by scientists
Pierre and Marie Curie.
1913 - First crossword puzzle is
1914 - First feature-length
US silent lm comedy, Tillie's
Punctured Romance, is released.
1940 - Death of US author
F Scott Fitzgerald.
1945 - General George Patton
dies after a car accident in Germany.
1963 - Sir Jack Hobbs, English cricketer, dies.
1971 - Austrian diplomat Kurt Waldheim is
chosen secretary-general of United Nations.
1978 - Police in Illinois arrested John W
Gacy Jr and begin unearthing the remains of
33 men and boys that he murdered.
1979 - Peace agreement signed, ending
seven-year Rhodesian guerrilla war.
1988 - A Pan Am jet explodes over
Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people in the
air and on the ground.
uWest Coast yesteryear
uToday in history
omas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury
(1118-1170); Benjamin Disraeli, English
statesman-author (1804-1881); Joseph Stalin,
Soviet leader (1879-1953); Kurt
Waldheim, former Austrian
president and UN secretary-general
(1918-2007); Kel Nagle, Australian
champion golfer (1920-); Jane Fonda,
US actress (1937-); Frank Zappa,
American musician (1940-1993);
Chris Evert, US tennis player (1954-);
Florence Gri th-Joyner, US athlete (1959-
1998); Kiefer Sutherland, US actor (1966-).
"It is not necessary to understand things in
order to argue about them." --- Pierre Augustin
Caron de Beaumarchais, French author and
" e wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard
shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the
lion and the fatling together, and a little child
shall lead them." --- (Isaiah 11:6).
Ships and shipping
have dominated the
life of captain D J
Rutter since boyhood
in England. At the end of this month he will
sever his links with the sea on his retirement
from the sta of the Union Steam Ship
Company. But captain Rutter will not be
"swallowing the anchor" --- he did that years
ago when he came ashore to live and work in
By comparison with other seagoing men
captain Rutter had a relatively short period of
about 21 years at sea but those 21 years were
as eventful as any man could wish, including
being shelled, torpedoed and mined during the
First World War and later shipwrecked and
actually presumed dead.
Eventually he joined the Union Steam
Ship Company and after about 10 years
serving on ships around Australia, New
Zealand and the Paci c Islands, he came
ashore in November,1936, rst to work as the
company's assistant foreman and later as wharf
superintendent, a post he has held since.
e totem poles in Tainui Street are once
again adorned with a sign --- this time it is a
message for Christmas, planned and sponsored
by the Roman Catholic Church and members
of the local branch of the National Council of
Churches. e sign has been prepared by local
artist Mr J Rhodes and is a tasteful piece of
artistry depicting a manger scene in one corner.
is morning, the Rev W A Best said all
the churches regarded the emphasis on the
centrality of Christ at Christmas time most
necessary and urgent. In the council grounds
nearby a Christmas crib has also been arranged
uToday s birthdays
uFood for thought
Printed and published by the
Greymouth Evening Star Co Limited
3 Werita Street, PO Box 3, Greymouth
03 769 7900 (o ce)
769 7913 (editorial)
768 6205 (fax)
Sports Editor Tui Bromley
Chief Reporter Laura Mills
03 769 7913
03 755 8422
Busy, busy, busy! With three days to go
til Christmas Day many of us have last
minute shopping, cooking and a host
of other tasks to attend to. It is time
for getting ready. Ready to have family
and friends for meals. Ready to have a
holiday break. Ready to simply unwind.
And ... perhaps, ready to go to church to
It is great to be with family at
Christmas, to receive and give presents,
have special meals and do nothing. But
I would like to set all this activity within
the context of God's coming among us.
e baby Jesus we welcome at
Christmas grew into a man. at Man
saved the world. Nothing will change
our world more than that fact. With all
the wars, famines and disasters in the
world, and calamities and upsets in
our own lives, we need to re ect on
what is really important.
Many people and families su er from
stress. Having one big party to try toget
through another year does not work.
It will not last. Only the things that
come from God will last. Peace and
love, forgiveness and hope. ese are the
things we ask for and for which we give
thanks. Other wise we will simply say
' ank God that is all over ...' and miss
So go to a church near you this
Christmas and bring your family with
you. Let Christmas be a surprise for you
all --- a beautiful surprise rejoicing at the
birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
and all he has done for us.
Happy and Holy Christmas to you all.
Fr Peter Costello
Parish Priest, St Patrick's Church.
What Christmas is all about
Heroes were lauded but
no one was ever held to
account for the deadly
carnage that ensued
when the Wellington-
express train plunged into the raging
Whangaehu River, just north of
Tangiwai, at 10.21pm 60 years ago this
Christmas Eve, killing 151 of the 285
passengers on board.
According to a documentary maker who
investigated the crash 11 years ago, and a
mountaineer who warned of a potential
calamity 18 months before the unstable
wall of the Mt Ruapehu crater lake
burst to create a deadly lahar, the lack of
accountability was no accident.
Tangiwai, as it is now simply known, is
New Zealand's sixth most deadly disaster.
Time is coming to bear on the tragedy,
with those who were intimately involved
either getting on or having passed on.
Graham Stewart was a cadet
photographer at the Herald in 1953.
On December 23 he completed the
biggest assignment of his young career ---
photographing the Queen as she stepped
o the royal yacht Gothic onto New
e Herald ran the pictures on the front
--- a huge break in tradition from the
"hatches, matches and dispatches" (birth,
deaths and marriages) and advertisements
that hitherto had graced the front page.
Queen Elizabeth II was the rst human
pictured on the front of the paper.
Stewart would also take the photo of the
second, Cyril Ellis, the hero credited with
saving more than 100 lives at Tangiwai.
Stewart had just turned in for the night
when news of the Tangiwai crash reached
him via his father, who had well-placed
friends in the Railways. e next morning
he headed south in an Austin A40
Devon, arriving at a scene that would
stick with him for the rest of his life.
"It was unbelievable, the wreckage, the
carnage, some of those carriages that
went right down the river."
It was late in the day by the time
Stewart arrived, but the devastation was
"What I couldn't get over, there were
still sur vivors dazed and walking around
the scene of the tragedy. You could
identify them because they were all
wearing military garb, khaki.
"Most people had lost everything when
the train hit the water. ey were just
stripped of their clothing."
e pictures Stewart took that day
brought home to New Zealanders the
magnitude of the tragedy. He has just
published them in a book, e Tangiwai
Disaster: A Christmas Eve Tragedy.
One shows Colin Morgan of Lower
Hutt standing next to the wreckage of
the seat he had occupied on the train.
One of the few survivors from carriage
three, Mr Morgan was asleep when the
crash occurred, and woke to nd himself
draped naked over a tree high on the
e extremes of fortune su ered by
those caught up in Tangiwai were both
numerous and dramatic. Five passengers
with rst-class tickets who had been
forced to travel second class because
their seats were occupied were relocated
moments before the crash. With all but
one of the passengers sitting in the front
ve carriages killed, the shift rearward
almost certainly saved their lives.
e lone exception was a young lady in
carriage six, who was trapped in her seat
when the rst of the rst-class carriages
toppled o the bridge after teetering on
Eight passengers left the train at
Waiouru, the nal stop before the crash,
and one got on. at passenger's fate is
It might have smiled on a few, but on
a grander scale fate was cruel indeed.
e circumstances that led to the express
tumbling into a normally sedate river
during the peak of a ash ood are
Trouble had been brewing in the rising
waters of the crater lake for years. e
cycle of rising water levels followed by
relieving lahars had existed for centuries.
e Tangiwai lahar was particularly
violent, hitting the bridge between
10.10pm and 10.15pm, destroying the
two central pillars while leaving the track
e river was raging when locomotive
Ka949 and the rst six carriages of the
express tumbled into it at 10.21pm. Most
of the 151 victims were washed away
by oodwaters and crushed by debris or
Such was the force of the water at the
time of the crash that one carriage was
found 2.5km downstream.
e lahar disappeared as swiftly as it
arrived, with survivors saying the river
ow had receded to ankle level in a
matter of minutes.
e express could not have hit the
bridge at a worse time. It should not
really have hit it at all.
A southbound freight train was
scheduled to reach the bridge rst but
was running late so was held at Karioi,
the next station to the north, so as not to
delay the express.
Had that not happened, the loss of
life would probably have been limited
to a two-man locomotive crew and a
guardsman, and Tangiwai would have
remained a minor footnote in our history.
An o cial inquiry into the tragedy
essentially pointed the nger at dumb
luck. at nding has never sat well with
Jim Mason, a member of an intrepid
group of mountaineers and canoeists who
made several trips to study the crater lake
in years leading up to the disaster.
What they saw --- rising water levels
and temperatures and increasingly
dramatic glacial melt --- alarmed them.
A huge lahar had tumbled down the
mountainside in 1925, damaging but
not destroying the Whangaehu rail
bridge. Mr Mason's group wrote to the
government volcanologist in Rotorua
and the Railways Department warning a
similar event was brewing. e
Wanganui Chronicle published a story
about their ndings, but no action was
Mr Mason, a former lawyer now in
his 80s who lives in Devonport, is still
tortured by the events that unfolded after
his warning was ignored.
"It doesn't go away," he says.
" ey had a lake on top of a mountain
rising at half an inch (1.3cm) a day. We'd
been up there and put in markers on the
shoreline and they were all underwater
by the time we could get back and read
them. No one was interested. If anyone
had listened we could have saved 150-
A relatively simple solution was
available. A simple pipe through the soft
crust that would eventually give way
would have provided an outlet for the
glacial melt that was causing the lake
level to rise.
"It only needed a farm drain-sized pipe
through the ash and they needn't have
had a lahar," Mr Mason said. "It was the
biggest regret of my life not being able to
kick them in the pants and get something
done about it."
Mr Mason made a written submission
to the board of inquiry, but was not called
to give evidence.
After studying evidence that ran to
1360 pages, the board found that no one
directly or indirectly concerned could be
blamed for Tangiwai. Doing nothing was
not the same as actually doing something
wrong, Mr Mason notes wryly.
Documentary maker David Sims
believes serious negligence contributed to
the disaster. e Whangaehu bridge, built
in 1906, had been damaged by a huge
lahar in 1925, and by three smaller events
leading up to 1953. Some remedial work
was done during that period, but the
damaged central pier remained
"like a tooth in a rotting gum",
e Truth About Tangiwai screened
in 2002. It focused primarily on the
juxtaposed fates of locomotive driver
Charles Parker and national hero Cyril
But Sims points out that responsibility
for the bridge's maintenance in the late
1940s would have fallen to Wanganui's
chief mechanical engineer, H C Lusty.
Mr Lusty happened to be the general
manager of the Railways at the time of
" ey could have xed that bridge
under his stewardship and they didn't,"
Sims says. "When this thing happened
eight or nine years later he was the GM.
He was the last person who'd want to
have this come out."
Instead, those involved with the inquiry
were happy to let a compliant media
focus on the stories of heroics that
emerged from the darkness of Tangiwai
that fateful Christmas Eve.
Almost 60 years later, the stories that
endure are the legend of Mr Ellis and
bravery shown by cricketer Bob Blair,
who played on in the Boxing Day test in
South Africa despite learning his ancee
had died on the train.
e ner details are fading away,
but not for the likes of Stewart. One
of the photos in his book shows the
Falloon family of Christchurch waving
goodbye to the Queen and the Duke
of Edinburgh after a visit to a relative's
house in One Tree Hill.
Glenis Falloon was 16 when she, her
sister and her parents miraculously
survived the crash.
"I looked out and there were no cars
either before or behind," Glenis' father,
J C Falloon, said after the crash. " en
our car went over and we hit the river.
We must have rolled over a half a dozen
times. Mud and water poured in. e
car was washed about 200 yards (180m)
downriver, then stuck on a sandbank and
turned on its side. at's what saved us."
e Herald tracked down a Glenis
Falloon in the Christchurch suburb of
Mairehau, but she was a distant relative
of the Glenis on the train. e Glenis we
sought might have lived in the Wairarapa,
but none of the dozen or so Falloon
families in the greater Masterton area
knew of her.
Like much of the truth about Tangiwai,
her story seems fated to stay untold.
Cyril Ellis was a national hero. ere's
no doubt about that.
Along with train guard William Inglis,
Mr Ellis jumped into carriage six of the
overnight express as it teetered above a
raging river on a collapsed bridge. Before
Mr Ellis and Mr Inglis could evacuate
the passengers, the carriage tumbled into
the abyss. It washed up on a sand bank
and Mr Ellis smashed a window with his
torch and, along with Mr Inglis
and passenger John Holman, successfully
rescued all but one of the 23
Mr Ellis and Mr Holman received the
George Medal for their bravery, while Mr
Inglis received the British Empire Medal.
But there is more, or less, to the story of
In the aftermath of Tangiwai, Mr Ellis
was credited with saving many of the
lives of the 134 passengers who did not
perish in the tragedy. His story, which
he recounted to reporters in Taihape
late on Christmas Day, was that he
had been driving north when he came
across the washed out Whangaehu River
road bridge. On seeing that a train was
approaching and sensing that it would
not be able to cross the water, Mr Ellis
ran on to the train tracks and attempted
to ag it down with his torch.
Post-crash investigations revealed
locomotive driver Charles Parker had
engaged the brakes about 180m before
the bridge, preventing the nal three
passenger cars from falling into the river.
Mr Ellis' torch waving had partially saved
at view is challenged by documentary
maker David Sims.
e real hero, says Sims, was Mr Parker.
In his 2003 documentary e Truth
About Tangiwai, Sims argued it was
impossible for Mr Ellis to have got to the
train in time to warn of the impending
e most likely scenario was that Mr
Parker saw the lahar boiling on the right
side of the tracks and hit the brakes and
then shut o the steam chest valves to
slow the train. Mr Parker was denied the
recognition he deserved --- and has never
received --- says Sims.
Government o cials were happy to
perpetuate the legend of Mr Ellis to
divert attention from their failings, says
"It ... suited the Railways because they
were negligent with that bridge. at pier
that failed when the lahar came down
was sitting like a rotten tooth in the gum
for about 20 years before the accident.
ey were happy Ellis ran down the
tracks and diverted attention."
--- New Zealand Herald
Had warnings about the lake level been acted on, the deadly lahar would
have been averted. But the engineer who might have supervised a remedy had
become head of Railways by the time of the Tangiwai tragedy.
PICTURES: New Zealand Herald
e scene of the disaster the next day.
Jim Mason is still tortured by the events that unfolded after his warning was ignored.
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