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Wahine survivor seeks to make contact with rescuer

Wahine survivor seeks to make contact with her Fijian rescuer

Kate Watson was 19 when the Wahine capsized and sank, with the loss of 51 lives on that day. As New Zealand remembers its worst maritime disaster 40 years on, her story of rescue and heroism is told on the website www.NZHistory.net.nz as part of the feature on the event at http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/wahine-disaster.

An artist now living in Queenstown Kate Watson recalls her life jacket flipping back over her head when she hit the sea. A Fijian, Eroni Vaceucau, grabbed and pulled her into a rubber dinghy, directing the 10 people on board to a safe landing at Pencarrow Heads.

Eroni Vaceucau was later singled out by the Court of Inquiry for his heroism in “distributing the people in (the life raft) to best advantage, doing much to ensure its safe passage to the eastern shore, and then going back into the surf after reaching the shore to help another survivor.”

Kate Watson has made the photo of the pair available in the hope that someone might pass on information about the man who saved her life. This image and her story can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/4lbyfc

Until the tragedy of 10 April 1968 the Lyttelton-Wellington ferries were symbols of certainty and stability, part of the Kiwi way of life. The 80 year history of the service is told in a new feature at http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/lyttelton-wellington-ferries.

The steward’s early morning knock at the cabin door, a cup of milky sweet tea (“if you don’t want sugar, don’t stir it”) and the sight of full, smelly spew boxes were part and parcel of traveling between the islands.

But the Wahine disaster cast a dark cloud over the service. Even a bigger, better Wahine – the second Rangatira (1972) – could not compete with increasingly affordable air travel and the convenient Picton-Wellington route. The overnight service ended in 1976.


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