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Disasters

Events In History

9 December 2019

Forty-seven tourists and guides were on Whakaari (White Island) in Bay of Plenty when the active volcano erupted at 2.11 p.m. Twenty-two died immediately or subsequently from burns or respiratory damage. Most of the survivors suffered severe or critical injuries.

22 February 2011

At 12.51 p.m. on Tuesday 22 February 2011, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake caused severe damage in Christchurch and Lyttelton, killing 185 people and injuring several thousand.

19 November 2010

The mine exploded at 3.44 p.m. on Friday 19 November 2010. Twenty-nine of the 31 men underground died immediately or soon afterwards from the blast or because of the toxic atmosphere this generated.

4 September 2010

The earthquake which struck at 4.35 a.m. on a Saturday morning was felt by many people in the South Island and southern North Island. There was considerable damage in central Canterbury, especially in Christchurch, but no loss of life.

4 September 2010

On 4 September 2010 a plane crashed soon after taking off from Fox Glacier airstrip, killing all nine people on board. The Walter Fletcher FU-24 was piloted by 33-year-old Chaminda Senadhira and carried four skydiving instructors and four skydivers who were touring the West Coast on a Kiwi Experience bus trip.

28 November 2008

An Air NZ Airbus A320 crashed off the coast of France. All seven people on board, including five New Zealanders, were killed. It was 29 years to the day since Air NZ Flight TE901 had crashed in Antarctica, killing all 257 on board

15 April 2008

Six students and a teacher from Elim College died in a flash flood while canyoning in the Mangatepopo Stream, Tongariro National Park.

28 April 1995

Fourteen people standing on a viewing platform at Cave Creek in Paparoa National Park on the West Coast died when it suddenly collapsed and fell into the creek-bed below.

7 March 1988

Cyclone Bola, one of the most damaging cyclones to hit New Zealand, struck Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne–East Cape in March 1988

16 February 1986

At 5.37 p.m. on 16 February 1986, the Soviet cruise liner Mikhail Lermontov hit rocks off Cape Jackson in the Marlborough Sounds.

26 January 1984

A record one-day total of up to 84.8 mm of rain caused extensive surface flooding in the streets of Invercargill, Riverton, Ōtautau, Tūātapere and Bluff.

28 November 1979

On the morning of 28 November 1979, Air New Zealand Flight TE901 left Auckland for an 11-hour return sightseeing flight to Antarctica. At 12.49 p.m. (New Zealand Standard Time), the aircraft crashed into the lower slopes of Mt Erebus, killing all 257 passengers and crew. 

24 May 1968

A magnitude 7.1 earthquake centred near Īnangahua Junction, 40 km east of Westport, struck at 5.24 a.m., shaking many people from their beds.

10 April 1968

The sinking of the Lyttelton–Wellington ferry Wahine is New Zealand’s worst modern maritime disaster. Fifty-one people lost their lives that day, another died several weeks later and a 53rd victim died in 1990 from injuries sustained in the wreck.

19 January 1967

Nineteen men were killed when an explosion ripped through the Strongman coal mine at Rūnanga. An inquiry found that safety regulations had not been followed and a shot hole for a charge had been incorrectly fired.

3 July 1963

The 1963 crash of a National Airways Corporation DC3, with the loss of all 23 people on board, remains the worst air accident within New Zealand.

7 February 1963

Fifteen people were killed and 21 injured, many severely, when a bus returning to Auckland from Waitangi Day celebrations in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip lost its brakes on Brynderwyn hill

24 November 1959

All hands were lost when the modern coastal freighter Holmglen foundered off the South Canterbury coast. The cause of the tragedy was never established.

24 December 1953

The worst railway disaster in New Zealand’s history occurred on Christmas Eve 1953, when the Wellington–Auckland night express plunged into the flooded Whangaehu River, just west of Tangiwai in the central North Island.

15 August 1951

The TSS Wahine was chartered by the New Zealand government to transport Kayforce troops to the Korean War. Shortly after leaving Darwin it ran aground on Masela Island in the Arafura Sea, east of Timor. 

23 January 1951

Twenty yachts left Wellington for Lyttelton in a race to celebrate Canterbury's centenary. The fleet ran into a severe southerly storm and only one yacht officially finished the race. Two others were lost, along with their 10 crew members.

23 October 1948

The Lockheed Electra airliner ZK-AGK Kaka went missing in poor weather on a flight from Palmerston North to Hamilton. Searchers did not reach the wreckage for a week.

25 August 1948

Three people were killed, 80 injured and about 150 buildings destroyed or badly damaged by New Zealand’s deadliest recorded tornado. The damage was estimated at more than £1 million (equivalent to $77 million in 2020).

23 November 1947

On 18 November 1947 Ballantynes, a Christchurch department store that was a local institution, was razed by the deadliest fires in New Zealand history. The bodies of the 41 victims were buried at Ruru Lawn Cemetery, Bromley, after a civic funeral five days later.

18 November 1947

The fire in Christchurch’s prestigious department store was the deadliest in New Zealand’s history.

6 February 1947

The liner, carrying 400 passengers, struck Barrett Reef in Wellington Harbour on 19 January. Only an unusually long spell of calm weather - dubbed 'Wanganella weather' by locals - saved it from becoming a total wreck.

20 June 1943

Ten United States Navy personnel drowned off the Kāpiti Coast, north of Wellington, during a training exercise in bad weather.

4 June 1943

The Cromwell–Dunedin express, travelling at speed, derailed while rounding a curve near Hyde in Central Otago.

19 December 1941

In New Zealand’s worst naval tragedy, the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Neptune struck enemy mines and sank off Libya. Of the 764 men who lost their lives, 150 were New Zealanders.

24 April 1941

Disaster struck during the hurried evacuation of Allied forces from Greece when hundreds of civilians and Commonwealth troops, including New Zealanders, were killed while they were boarding the Greek yacht Hellas at the port of Piraeus, near Athens.

19 February 1938

Twenty men and one woman drowned when a cloudburst sent a wall of water surging through a public works camp in the Kōpuawhara Valley, near Māhia.

4 May 1937

The engineer-in-charge and the overseer were killed when the second avalanche to hit the Homer tunnel project in less than 12 months struck without warning.

8 February 1931

All three people on board a Dominion Airlines Desoutter died when it crashed near Wairoa in northern Hawke’s Bay.

3 February 1931

When the earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, struck at 10.47 a.m., many buildings in central Napier and Hastings collapsed.

6 July 1923

The Auckland−Wellington express ploughed into a huge slip that had slumped across the tracks at Ōngarue, north of Taumarunui in King Country.

24 September 1917

Ten New Zealand soldiers were killed when they were hit by a train at Bere Ferrers in southern England. The accident occurred as troops from the 28th Reinforcements for the NZ Expeditionary Force were being transported from Plymouth to Sling Camp on Salisbury Plain.

23 October 1915

The sinking of the transport ship Marquette in the Aegean Sea in late 1915 added to the grief of a nation still reeling from the heavy losses at Gallipoli.

12 September 1914

At 7.20 a.m. an explosion at Ralph's mine on Raynor Rd rocked Huntly. It was caused by a miner's naked acetylene cap-lamp igniting firedamp (methane gas given off by coal)

10 September 1914

On 10 September 1914, 10 miners working on Whakaari (White Island) were killed when part of the crater wall collapsed, causing a landslide

16 April 1912

Although no New Zealanders were aboard the world’s largest passenger ship when it sank in the chilly North Atlantic with appalling loss of life, the country followed the news closely.

12 February 1909

The Picton-Wellington ferry SS Penguin struck rocks in Cook Strait and sank in heavy seas off a rugged, isolated coast. Only 30 of the 102 people on board survived.

26 March 1896

At 9.30 a.m., an explosion tore through the Brunner mine in Westland’s Grey Valley. Two men sent underground to investigate were later found unconscious after inhaling black damp, a suffocating mixture of nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

29 October 1894

It remains the third deadliest shipwreck ever in New Zealand waters: 121 lives were lost when the steamer Wairarapa struck Miners Head, the north-west point of Great Barrier Island, 90 km north-east of Auckland.

10 June 1886

The eruption lasted six hours and caused massive destruction. It destroyed several villages, along with the famous silica hot springs known as the Pink and White Terraces. Approximately 120 people, nearly all Māori, died.

29 April 1881
The steamer Tararua, en route from Port Chalmers to Melbourne, struck a reef at Waipapa Point, Southland. Of the 151 passengers and crew on board, 131 were lost, including 12 women and 14 children.
11 September 1880

Four children were killed and 13 adults injured when two rail carriages were blown off the tracks by severe winds on a notoriously exposed part of the Remutaka incline railway. This was the first major loss of life on New Zealand’s railways.

21 February 1879

On the morning of 21 February 1879, an explosion rocked the coal mine at Kaitangata, South Otago.

30 September 1878

The ‘Great Flood’ of 1878 killed at least three people and thousands of animals as it swept across the southern South Island

18 November 1874

En route to Auckland laden with immigrants, the Cospatrick caught fire off the Cape of Good Hope. The tragedy has been described as New Zealand's worst civil disaster.

3 February 1868

An ex-tropical cyclone swept south across the country from Saturday 1st. By the time it moved away on Tuesday 4th, more than 40 people had died.

14 May 1866

Sailing from Melbourne to London, the General Grant hit cliffs on the west coast of the main island in the subantarctic Auckland Islands. Fifteen of the 83 people on board survived the sinking, but only 10 of them were ultimately rescued 18 months later.

20 May 1865

The paddle steamer City of Dunedin left Wellington at around 5 p.m. on Saturday 20 May. It was never heard from again and no trace was ever found of the four dozen people on board.

26 July 1863
Approximately 25 gold miners died on the Arrow diggings, north-east of Queenstown, in a series of flash floods and slips caused by 24 hours of heavy rain.
7 February 1863

For the British it was the costliest day of the New Zealand Wars – but it occurred far from the battlefield. Bringing naval stores from Sydney, the modern 1706-ton steam corvette HMS Orpheus ran aground on the bar at the entrance to Auckland’s Manukau Harbour.

23 January 1855

The magnitude 8.2 earthquake had a profound impact on the development of Wellington city.

23 July 1851

Twenty-six lives were lost when the barque Maria was wrecked near Cape Terawhiti. This provided more ammunition for Wellington settlers who were trying to convince the government of the need for a lighthouse.

7 May 1846

A devastating landslide obliterated the Ngāti Tūwharetoa village of Te Rapa on the south-west shore of Lake Taupō.

31 August 1841

The fate of the brig Sophia Pate, wrecked on a sandbar at the entrance to Kaipara Harbour with the loss of 21 lives, highlighted the dangers of navigating New Zealand’s poorly charted coastal waters.

Articles

Parliament Buildings

Parliament buildings have been modified, destroyed by fire, half-built and restored; the parliamentary places and spaces have formed an important part of New Zealand's history. Read the full article

Page 8 - Disasters

Fires and earthquakes have been major threats to New Zealand's Parliament

Responding to tragedy

How police responded to the disasters, particularly Tangiwai, Wahine and Erebus Read the full article

Page 1 - Police response to disaster

How police responded to the disasters, particularly Tangiwai, Wahine and Erebus

Tangiwai disaster

New Zealand's worst railway disaster occurred 60 years ago on Christmas Eve 1953, when the Wellington–Auckland night express plunged into the swollen Whangaehu River near Tangiwai. Of the 285 people on board, 151 were killed. The tragedy stunned the world and left a nation in mourning. Read the full article

Page 1 - Tangiwai railway disaster

New Zealand's worst railway disaster occurred 60 years ago on Christmas Eve 1953, when the Wellington–Auckland night express plunged into the swollen Whangaehu River near

Page 2 - Wrong place at the wrong time

The unfortunate sequence of events that led to the Tangiwai

Page 3 - Search and rescue

How locals and police responded to New Zealand's worst railway disaster

Page 4 - Dealing with the dead

Identifying victims is a major task following any mass tragedy. A number of circumstances made this process particularly difficult at

Page 5 - Death at Tangiwai: a class affair

Survival at Tangiwai depended on which class of carriage you were travelling

New Zealand disasters timeline

The disasters timeline and map give an overview of New Zealand's worst natural disasters, transport accidents, fires, mining accidents and other tragedies that have caused major loss of life. Read the full article

Page 1 - New Zealand disasters timeline

The disasters timeline and map give an overview of New Zealand's worst natural disasters, transport accidents, fires, mining accidents and other tragedies that have caused major

Page 2 - Further information

Links Mining accidents Natural hazards and disasters  Shipwrecks New Zealand disasters map and timeline

Wahine disaster

This April marks the 45th anniversary of the sinking of the ferry Wahine. With more than 50 lives lost, this was New Zealand's worst modern maritime disaster. The Wahine’s demise on 10 April 1968 also heralded a new era in local television, as pictures of the disaster were beamed into living rooms around the country. Read the full article

Page 1 - The Wahine disaster

This April marks the 45th anniversary of the sinking of the ferry Wahine. With more than 50 lives lost, this was New Zealand's worst modern maritime disaster. The Wahine’s demise

Page 2 - Timeline to tragedy

The events that led to the drowning of 51 people in the Wahine disaster of 10 April

Page 3 - Co-ordinating the rescue

The police, emergency services and civilians rescued passengers and crew from the inter-island ferry Wahine in Wellington Harbour in April

Page 4 - Court of inquiry

The court of inquiry that met 10 weeks after the sinking pinpointed the build-up of water in the vehicle deck as the reason the ferry finally

Page 5 - Further information

Erebus disaster

On 28 November 1979, 237 passengers and 20 crew were killed when Air New Zealand Flight TE901 crashed into Mt Erebus, Antarctica. The tragedy was followed by a demanding recovery operation and a raging debate over who or what was to blame Read the full article

Page 1 - Erebus disaster

On 28 November 1979, 237 passengers and 20 crew were killed when Air New Zealand Flight TE901 crashed into Mt Erebus, Antarctica. The tragedy was followed by a demanding recovery

Page 2 - Tourist flights to Antarctica

Air New Zealand and Qantas began offering sightseeing flights to Antarctica in February

Page 3 - Timeline to disaster

The Erebus disaster was mainly caused by a late change in the flight path and atmospheric conditions over

Page 5 - Operation Overdue

A team of New Zealand Police officers and a Mountain Face Rescue Team were immediately dispatched to the scene of the Erebus disaster.

Page 6 - Finding the cause

Following the death of so many people, it was not surprising that official investigations of the tragedy sparked debate and

Page 9 - Further information

Disasters

Social studies activities relating to NZ disasters exploring whether or not things may have turned out differently had other decisions been made. Read the full article

Page 1 - What could have been done differently?

Social studies activities relating to NZ disasters exploring whether or not things may have turned out differently had other decisions been

Antarctica and New Zealand

NZ and Antarctica share a long and rich history. From Tuati in 1840 to Edmund Hillary in the 1950s and more recent scientists, Kiwis have explored, examined and endured the frozen continent. Read the full article

Page 3 - Triumph and tragedy

There is a New Zealand connection to a number of triumphs and tragedies that have occurred in

The 1960s

Five decades ago most Kiwis enjoyed a standard of living that was the envy of other nations. During the 1960s the arrival of TV and jet airliners shrank our world, and New Zealanders began to express themselves on a range of international issues, including opposition to the Vietnam War. Read the full article

Page 9 - 1966 - key events

A selection of the key events in New Zealand history from

Page 10 - 1967 - key events

A selection of the key events in New Zealand history from

Page 11 - 1968 - key events

A selection of the key events in New Zealand history from

Container shipping

Forty-five years ago, on 19 June 1971, the first all-container ship to visit New Zealand arrived in Wellington. Columbus New Zealand was part of a worldwide revolution in shipping. These simple steel boxes would change our transport industry, our ports and how we work and shop. Read the full article

Page 7 - The wreck of the Rena

On 5 October 2011 the MSC-chartered, Liberian-flagged container ship Rena astonished local mariners by grounding on the clearly marked Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga. Three months

2010 Canterbury (Darfield) earthquake

At 4.35 a.m. on 4 September 2010, the Canterbury region was struck by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. It shook Cantabrians, their properties, their land and their lives. Read the full article

Page 1 - September 2010 Canterbury (Darfield) earthquake

At 4.35 a.m. on 4 September 2010, the Canterbury region was struck by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. It shook Cantabrians, their properties, their land and their

Page 2 - Timeline: 4-16 September 2010

Detailed timeline of events relating to the Canterbury earthquake on and after 4 September

Pike River mine disaster

On the afternoon of 19 November 2010, an explosion ripped through the remote Pike River mine on the West Coast of the South Island, killing 29 men. Read the full article

Page 1 - Pike River mine disaster

On the afternoon of 19 November 2010, an explosion ripped through the remote Pike River mine on the West Coast of the South Island, killing 29

February 2011 Christchurch earthquake

At 12.51 p.m. on 22 February 2011, the Canterbury region was struck by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake. It caused massive devastation in most parts of the region and 185 lives were lost. Read the full article

Page 1 - February 2011 Christchurch earthquake

At 12.51 p.m. on 22 February 2011, the Canterbury region was struck by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake. It caused massive devastation in most parts of the region and 185 lives were

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The wreckage of the Wellington–Auckland express and the remains of the railway bridge at Tangiwai, 25 December 1953

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