Collection

NZ Disasters

Curated by NZ On Screen team

This collection looks at some of New Zealand's most significant national tragedies. Spanning 150+ years, it tells stories of drama, caution, hope and recovery — from the 1863 wreck of the Orpheus at Manukau Heads, to Tarawera, the Wahine, Erebus, Pike River and Christchurch. In the backgrounder, Jock Phillips writes about the collection, and the "common sequence" to disaster.

Descent from Disaster - Strongman Mine Disaster

Television, 2013 (Excerpts)

On 19 January 1967, an explosion rocked the Strongman coal mine on the West Coast, causing the deaths of 19 miners. This documentary, part of a series investigating NZ disasters, sees TV personality Leigh Hart examining what happened that day in Rūnanga, and how it affected the community. Interviewees include Hart’s own family: his Dad, who was in the mine at the time, his mother, and his Uncle Terry, who was part of the rescue team. This two-minute excerpt includes a reenactment of the disaster, and Leigh examining the outside of the old mine.

Collection

The Wahine Disaster

Curated by NZ On Screen team

On a Tuesday evening in April 1968, the ferry Wahine set out from Lyttelton for Wellington. Around 6am the next morning, cyclone-fuelled winds surged in strength as it began to enter Wellington Harbour. At 1.30pm, with the ferry listing heavily to starboard, the call was finally made for 734 passengers and crew to abandon ship. The news coverage and documentaries in this collection explore the Wahine disaster from many angles. Meanwhile Keith Aberdein — one of the TV reporters who was there — explores his memories and regrets over that fateful day on 10 April 1968.

Destination Disaster: The Sinking of the Mikhail Lermontov

Television, 2000 (Full Length)

This award-winning documentary is an account of the last days and sinking of Russian cruise liner Mikhail Lermontov. On 16 February, 1986, she ran aground on rocks in the Marlborough Sounds. Passengers were successfully evacuated, but a Russian crew member lost his life, and several were injured. Evidence is given by those who were there, with a particular emphasis on presenting the stories of the Russian crew, who were largely unavailable to the media at the time. A minute into clip nine, one young Russian agent bears a striking similarity to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The Wahine Disaster

Television, 2008 (Full Length)

This award-winning documentary chronicles how events unfolded for passengers on the morning the ferry Wahine hit rocks in Wellington Harbour on 10 April 1968. Aside from interviews with survivors and crew, there are memories from two key rescuers — tugboat Captain John Brown and policeman Jim Mason — who both saved many people from rough seas. Writer Emmanuel Makarios argues that a distance of 20 feet would have made all the difference in avoiding disaster. This 2008 programme was made and narrated by Sharon Barbour, later to become a BBC reporter in England. 

Frontline - The Wahine Disaster 25 Years on

Television, 1993 (Excerpts)

This special report from late 80s/early 90s current affairs show Frontline looks at the Wahine disaster, on its 25th anniversary. Fifty-one people died on 10 April 1968 after the interisland ferry struck Barrett Reef near Wellington, in a huge storm. The first part ('From Reef to Ruin') features archive footage and interviews with survivors and rescuers. In the second part ('Fatal Shores'), reporter Rob Harley examines whether the ferry could have been better equipped, and more lives saved. A third part ('Strait Answers') is not shown here due to copyright issues with some of the footage. 

Series

Descent from Disaster

Television, 2013–2015

Using interviews, reenactments and archive images, each episode of Screentime series Descent from Disaster examines a major New Zealand disaster — what happened, and what was learnt. Presenters were chosen for their connection to each topic. Sailor Andrew Fagan outlines the 1894 wreck of the SS Wairarapa off Great Barrier Island; weatherman and pilot Jim Hickey looks at a 1948 Ruapehu plane crash; Leigh Hart asks his miner father about the 1967 explosion at the Strongman mine. The first season of seven episodes screened in 2013. Another six followed in 2015.  

Flight 901 - The Erebus Disaster

Television, 1981 (Excerpts)

On 28 November 1979, an Air New Zealand DC-10 crashed into Mt Erebus, Antarctica, killing all 257 people on board. It was the worst civil aviation disaster in NZ history and at the time, the fourth worst in the world. Made independently of state TV, Flight 901 was the first in-depth documentary on the accident. It surveys the novelty of Antarctic tourist flights, the search and rescue operation, and controversy over causes stirred by the Peter Mahon-led Royal Commission of Inquiry. This 15 minute excerpt was edited for NZ On Screen by director John Keir.

Inside Story: The Wahine Disaster

Television, 2008 (Excerpts)

Made in 2008, this documentary chronicles the Wahine disaster, from the ship leaving Lyttelton to the last survivor being pulled out of the water. Interviewees share their experiences — some make it ashore in life rafts at Seatoun, others are washed up on the “battlefield” of the Pencarrow coast. The Wahine’s crew offer insight into the conditions the ship was sailing in, and of their gradual realisation that it couldn’t be saved. The TV One programme also features animated scenes of the ill-fated journey, which mimic the black and white news footage of the disaster unfolding.

I Was There - Wahine Disaster

Television, 2013 (Full Length Episode)

This 2013 TVNZ Heartland series saw veteran newsreaders present major moments in New Zealand history. In this episode Dougal Stevenson looks back at the Wahine disaster of 10 April 1968, when 51 people perished after the interisland ferry struck Barrett Reef near Wellington, in a southerly storm. Stevenson was a junior newsreader at the time. Along with archive footage, two eyewitnesses are interviewed: passenger William Spring, who recalls leaping from the capsized ship; and Roger Johnstone, who describes filming the disaster as a young NZBC cameraman.