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The Truth about Tangiwai

Television (Excerpts) – 2002

On Christmas Eve 1953 a volcanic eruption caused a massive lahar to flow down Whangaehu River. The Wellington-Auckland express crossed the rail bridge at Tangiwai minutes later; it collapsed, and carriages plunged into the flooded river. Out of 285 people, 151 died, in New Zealand's worst rail accident. This 2002 documentary examines events and the board of inquiry finding that the accident was an act of God. This excerpt attacks the story that Cyril Ellis could have warned the train driver what lay ahead, and argues there was a railways department cover-up at the board of inquiry. 

When a big lahar hits, this embankment acts as a dam, trapping water and debris. And to make matters worse, the bridge crosses the river on a sharp bend at the far end of the flood plain.
– Narrator Paul Gittins on the placement of the bridge at Tangiwai

Key Cast & Crew

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David Sims

Research, Director

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Peter Metcalf


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Paul Gittins


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Anne Gilbert

Research, Co-Producer

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Murray Nuttall

Digital Effects

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Ben Powdrell

Assistant Editor

See all 14 credits

Produced by

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Top Shelf Productions


Logo for Top Shelf Productions

Top Shelf Productions