On Christmas Eve 60 years ago, 151 people died in the Tangiwai railway disaster. A dramatic mudflow, or lahar, was unleashed from Mt Ruapehu when the crater lake’s wall collapsed.
It surged down the Whangaehu River, destroying the railway bridge at Tangiwai. The Wellington to Auckland overnight express plunged into the raging torrent.
The driver, fireman, one first class passenger, and 148 of the 176 second class passengers died.
Among the few from the second-class carriages to survive was Richard Edward Brett, 18, known to all as Ted, who somehow avoided being swept to his death down the flooded river.
”The water was completely blinding,” he would later recall.
”It was full of sulphur, engine oil, and other muck and debris.”
The only survivor from the second carriage, he made notes on the disaster and gave two unpublished interviews before he died in 2008. Here, for the first time, is his story.