Recovery party at Tangiwai

Recovery party at Tangiwai

A recovery party at Tangiwai carries the body of a deceased passenger from the Wellington–Auckland express.

Community contributions

3 comments have been posted about Recovery party at Tangiwai

What do you know?

Kathy Bass

Posted: 28 May 2013

My Great Aunty Nerissa Love was one of the victims in the Tangiwai disaster. There was a telly movie called Tangiwai: A Love Story recently made and that was based on her and her relationship with NZ Cricketer Bob Blair.
Nerissa was my dads mothers sister, so she was my dads aunty... If there is anyone with information on the disaster, or who may have known Nerissa, we'd love to find out any new bits and pieces of information :-)

John Archer

Posted: 11 Jan 2010

At midday on on Christmas Day the Prime Minister asked "farmers and others with property on the banks of this river keep a close watch and to send reports to the nearest police station." But the emergency ringing of six long rings on the Mangamahu telephone party line just after dawn had Mangamahu farmers and workers down at the river bank six hours before the PM made that request. At 9am on Christmas morning my dad, Dave Archer, rang the police for them to come out from Wanganui to collect a body he had found in a gorge. Then three other local searchers turned up and told the elderly policeman who had come out from town of three more bodies at other inaccessible locations. After one look over the cliff into the river, the old policeman asked the young blokes to recover the bodies themselves, and to arrange for them to be brought into Wanganui. Then he drove back into town. We never saw another policeman at Mangamahu until they came out to raid the pub for after-hours drinking months later. A young guy would scramble down the bluffs, swim downstream, climb the willow tree the body in it, cut the branches away with his sheath knife to get it to the ground, float it downstream to a less precipitous place, and would then carry it on his back in a fireman's lift up a bank that was typically 150 ft or more. The last of the bodies above water level were found by a large-scale methodical search through the gorges on New Years Day. Members of tramping clubs came from the cities to help. Then bodies underwater started bloating and floating up to the surface. There were five or six a week for the next three weeks.  A little air force life raft had been obtained from Ohakea and a couple of young local blokes paddled 40 km down the Mangamahu section of the Whangaehu river each day to collect them. There were no jet-boats, no helicopters, no two-way radios, no body bags, no post-traumatic stress counselling sessions. In the first few days, the farmers put the "bods" out at the road beside their letterboxes in the morning, and my dad, who was the local carrier, drove down the valley in the middle of the day collecting them, then parked the truckload of bodies in our lorryshed. After lunch, Mum and the other Mangamahu ladies got on the deck of the truck to wash them and lay them out decently. Another carrier with raised sides on his truck came out from Wanganui and took the load of bods to town each evening. That was when the police first saw them. As well as many hours of work by dad and the farmers,  and a lot of miles by the trucks, and the loss of tarpaulins and dozens of wool packs used as shrouds, nobody ever charged the police for the hours of work or the costs involved in doing their work for them. So everyone was furious when an undertaker put in a hefty bill after the police asked him to come out to Mangamahu and get just one body. And they were even more brassed off when grateful relatives of the victims, who knew nothing of the Mangamahu people's work, gave bottles of whiskey to the police for recovering the bodies, and the police drank it all themselves. About 60 bodies were recovered from our part of the river, between Mt View and Kaiangaroa. There were 40 of them stored in my dad's lorry-shed, right beside our house.