Kaimai tunnel disaster memorial

Kaimai tunnel disaster memorial

Aramoana memorial

Work began on the Kaimai railway deviation and the Kaimai tunnel between Waikato and the Bay of Plenty on 2 October 1965. On 24 February 1970, during the early stages of underground work, a cave-in trapped 12 of the workers. Eight men were rescued, but four lost their lives: James Smart, Alfred Thomas Leighton, Donald Alexander McGregor and Peter James Clarkson.

When Prime Minister R.H. Muldoon formally opened the tunnel on 12 September 1978 he also unveiled two plaques set into a boulder beside the Old Te Aroha Road, near the western end of the tunnel. One commemorated the opening of the tunnel; the other paid tribute to the four men who had died and others who had worked to complete the tunnel.

Sources: Report of Commission to Inquire into Disaster at Kaimai Tunnel, AJHR, 1970, C2A; The Kaimai Railway Deviation, Wellington, 1976, pp. 8, 16; ‘Historic Train Ride Fulfils 65-year-old Dream’, NZ Herald, 13/9/1978, p. 3; Bob Stott, Kaimai: The Story of the Kaimai Tunnel, Dunedin, 1978, pp. 35, 52.

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Nuala Kelly

Posted: 25 Feb 2022

I was surprised and disappointed that there was no commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Kaimai disaster.. My husband, Patrick Kelly. Is the last living survivor of the cave in, and my dad, the late Brendan Hester, was also trapped in the tunnel cave in, so our family spent a weekend in Matamata at this time last year. We visited the Memorial and the graves of those who died.