The Wahine disaster left scars on the minds and hearts of hundreds of people, well beyond the capital, be it a passenger on the ferry, someone called to action as a rescuer, a family left with one less member or Kiwis following the developments from afar.
Kate Nicol-Williams visited the area where the disaster occurred to talk to some people for whom the day was a defining moment in their lives.
Sharon Major tries hard not to think about the day she moved to the capital, but Wellington weather often has other plans.
"When it’s really ferocious, I really am worried about what’s happening out at sea," she told 1 News.
Mrs Major was 21 years old when she left the South Island to live in Wellington with her husband Murray and six-month-old daughter Sarah, the Morris 1000 packed up with their possessions also on board the Wahine.
“I don't know. I mean, we were so lucky because we three survived but so many people didn't,” she said.
Mrs Major was eating breakfast when she told another passenger she didn’t know the ferry took a route so close to the rocks at Barrett Reef. The next minute, the ferry ran aground.
While passengers were running to get their life jackets and head to the muster stations, Mrs Major was running in the opposite direction to find Murray and Sarah.
Murray Major, resting after being knocked out when the Wahine ran aground, with Sharon and Sarah Major, before they abandoned ship.
Source: F.T. Robinson Wellington Museums Trust Collections
"Here was this person unconscious on the floor and clutching a baby on top of him," she said.
Passengers stopped to help lift Murray to a muster station. He’d fallen over while holding onto Sarah when the boat lurched onto the rocks.
He came to just before the order was given to abandon ship.
"The ship was on a real incline by now and I was clinging on to Sarah so the three of us were inching our way around the deck. Other people crashed around in front of us, you know, broken legs and goodness knows what,” Mrs Major said.
They became separated shortly after. Murray was in the water clinging to a rope attached to a life raft for at least an hour while Mrs Major and Sarah were on the raft.
Mrs Major put her faith in strangers many times that day, but it was the split decisions to throw Sarah to someone on board a life raft and, later, to someone on board the tug that rescued them, which have stayed with her.
"I looked at this rope ladder and thought, '[I] can't do that with a baby' and there was a sailor up the top of the ladder so I yelled out, 'Here, catch!' and hurled Sarah up and she disappeared over the edge of the rail,” she said.
"I have no idea who that sailor was. I mean, it would be wonderful to find out if anybody knows if he's still around, if he told his family, "I caught this baby,” she said.
Mrs Major said it’s still very shocking to remember seeing other people floating in the sea, and realising that they were probably dead.
Daughter Sarah grew up not knowing that much about the disaster she was involved in. Her parents didn’t like to talk about the event and she remembers it being distressing hearing some of the details for the first time when her mother was giving a talk to a local school about the event.
"I think that I was actually quite old before I realised that I could've maybe not been caught, you know. It's just awful to think about," she said.
Sarah has written a list of things she’s grateful for about their experience.
"I'm really grateful we survived and now I have my sister and a couple of other daughters," she said.
"The generosity of strangers who recognised us from the photo in the paper is just so random; they would leave baby clothes and things on the doorstep of my parents’ little flat," she said.
Also on the list are the strangers who caught her, her mother’s 'great basketball skills,' the fact her father was a champion swimmer but clung to the life raft instead of trying to swim, the tug boat crew which battled extreme weather to save around 174 people - including her family - and the woollen clothing which kept them 'nice and warm.'
Retired police launch master and Wahine rescuer John Bowman.
There were plenty of heroes that day. One of them was John Bowman, a retired police launch master.
The harbourmaster had called on the police for two strong swimmers to deliver pumps to the Wahine in an attempt to remove flood waters.
"We got to Point Jerningham and the skipper turned around and said, ‘She’s over,’” he said.
Fifty years on, John Bowman returns to the area where the Wahine capsized.
Source: 1 NEWS
Fifty years later, 1 News travelled with Mr Bowman back to the area near Steeple Rock where the Wahine capsized.
Mr Bowman said he’s used to rough seas but has never seen waves as high as they were that day.
"You look how close it is to the shore and unfortunately, all those poor people got pushed over the other side, just because of the nature of the sea and the current."
He said the Eastbourne coastline was "a wall of white water, with little black specks and people in the water… Upturned lifeboats."
He went to the nearest heads and started pulling waterlogged, frozen people out of the water.
"I felt quite safe 'cause I'm a strong swimmer and had a wetsuit on but if anything had happened to the boat, all those people were really risking their lives," he said about the four other rescuers on board.
The rescued passengers were put down below in the tug, where the engine kept them warm. Even with a wetsuit, Mr Bowman said he had to wrap up in a blanket afterwards as he was 'damn cold.'
The group rescued 55 people, taking them ashore at Seatoun, but there was one young man that still haunts Mr Bowman.
"It was really sad because I could see his lips were blue, you know, I can recognise drowning when I see it - he was still conscious."
He had just grabbed the man when the boat became side on to a large wave. The skipper had to accelerate the boat to another area to avoid danger and Mr Bowman said he had to let go of the man.
"I was tossing up whether to go over and help him ashore but then if I'd done that, I wouldn’t be able to pull other people out.
"I can still see him looking up at me now," he said.
Mr Bowman said the event has affected him and no counselling was on offer to the 370 police officers who were involved that day.
"The whole thing was very emotional, but at the same token, I had a lot of pride for what we did."
He said the boat’s skipper, Doug Newey, deserved public commendation for the way he steered the boat that day.
The Arahina scraped across the shallow sea floor several times as Captain Newey took the crew as close as possible to Eastbourne’s coastline.
"We were nearly side on and that poor old boat was almost tipping over and surfing sideways. Because he did his job, we were able to pull them out, and we took risks," Mr Bowman said.
Many lives changed forever, 50-years-ago.
Source: 1 NEWS
An intellectually disabled woman who changed her name and travelled to India to join her boyfriend has returned home.
The family of 24-year-old Jessica Doody of Christchurch last week expressed fears for her safety as a court had earlier ruled she was naive and "vulnerable to the influence of unscrupulous predators".
The family claimed Ms Doody, who went missing last month, had been influenced by her boyfriend, Gurdeep Singh. He returned to India last year.
Her sister Sarah Doody has posted on Facebook today that Jessica "has been returned home".
The post said, "she is OK. A bit upset but she will have heaps of support over the next few weeks/month".
Sarah Doody expressed thanks "for all your love and support over this terrible time" and asked for the family’s privacy to be respected "while we try to deal with what has happened over the last month".
"Love, the Doody family," the post concluded.
Detective work by Sarah Doody had tracked Jessica down in India, and her father, Craig Doody, spoke to 1 NEWS from India last week.
He had been allowed a brief visit with his daughter, supervised by local police before he was sent away.
The family had a protective travel ban put in place for Jessica last year but it expired in May.
The family questions how she was able to change her name and travel overseas, despite a court ruling.
Source: 1 NEWS