Kōrero: Railway accidents

Surviving the Silver Fern crash

Surviving the Silver Fern crash

Frances Siddle was a passenger on the Silver Fern railcar which derailed on a curve north of Waiōuru on 18 August 1981, killing four people. Children in her son’s class sent her cards after her lucky escape. Read her account of the accident.

What\'s you story?

Contributed by Frances Siddle

We lived in Dunedin at the time and I was on the last leg of the journey to see my parents-in-law in Taumarunui. With me were my two daughters, Marie-Louise (4) and Elizabeth (2). I was pregnant (six months) with our fourth child. My husband and eldest son were at home. A friend from Dunedin, Mary, was also with me.

On this trip I felt uneasy at times as the driver seemed to be going rather fast and this was especially true on the curves north of Waiouru at the time of the crash. I suddenly had the sensation of tipping and knew no more till I found myself standing through a broken window with grass around my ankles. It was deadly quiet for a few seconds and then I realised what had happened. I immediately thought of the children and then heard them calling for me. 'Thank God,' I thought, 'they are alive.' Not so the poor man in the seat behind me; he was pinned under the train at my feet. Some passengers were stuck in the overhead luggage racks.

There was no panic, people began to comfort each other, and in a short time some male passengers had set up an escape route through a door on the upper side of the train. The smell of diesel was disturbing. We huddled together on an embankment and I thought of my husband (no cellphones then), unable to let him know we were okay except for cuts and bruises. The children were distressed. Passengers were amazing and looked after each other.

Rescue came from the military at Waiouru, and we were driven out along the workgang access road back to the camp, where medical help was waiting. There I was reassured that my baby was okay. Ambulances and a helicopter were used for those badly injured (including my friend Mary).The feelings of relief were overwhelming, mixed with shock and sadness as I knew that some had died. We all took several weeks to recover physically and emotionally from this experience.

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Te tuhi tohutoro mō tēnei whārangi:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Railway accidents - Types of accidents', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/community-contribution/22284/surviving-the-silver-fern-crash (accessed 20 September 2020)

He kōrero nā Nancy Swarbrick, i tāngia i te 11 Mar 2010