Sound clip: horrific scenes on Wahine

A Wahine crew member describes the terrible scene and the sounds of lifeboats during the disaster.


Crew member: To continue on with the story, if you've got time? I clambered onto the back of the ship to get off myself, and I can remember the ship was on a tremendous angle at this time – 45 degrees at least, and the bottom side railing was well in the water. And I looked around and there was only about three or four people left, and I clambered up on the railing and looking around for a clear spot to jump so I wouldn't be smashed back on the ship with a huge, huge swell, and somehow I managed; I slipped off, and I don't know how it happened. I can remember falling down on my back and looking up from under the water, and there's nothing but blackness and a few bubbles, and that gave me a wee bit of a scare and I took a few mouthfuls of water, which didn't help.

But the two main things that were going through my mind – one was the old story that if you don't get far enough away from the ship, you'll be sunk and you'll go down with it, so there was that one, and the other one was that I thought as soon as the funnel goes in the water, maybe the cold sea water may hit the boilers and there'd be a mighty explosion; so with those two things on my mind, I tried to get away as fast as I could. I tried to swim and found I couldn't, mainly with the physical shape of the life jacket I had on, which basically seemed to be all in front of you. And I tried to do that swim but I couldn't, but I found if I laid on my back and kicked my legs and waved my arms around the water a bit that I could propel myself away, which I did at the greatest rate of knots that I could.

I was in the water a few minutes – I guess twenty minutes – but I heard some yelling from a long way away, and I saw a life boat, which I got to, and I was dragged aboard. And there comes another terrible thing – it just seemed to be embossed in my mind – the ship seemed to be overcrowded with people, and all I could hear was the screams of children, which I couldn't see. They seemed to be underneath everybody else, and those screams of those children was another thing I can't seem to forget.

We tried to row, start rowing the boat ashore only to find that apparently there was a, a rope caught around the propellers, and they asked for a volunteer to go over the side and swim underneath the boat with a knife to cut the, this rope. And I thought, God, there's no way I was going over there again, but thank God there was a chap brave enough to go over and swim underneath the boat, and he managed to cut this rope loose, and we slowly made our way ashore.

Interviewer: Some terrific feats

Crew member: I'll say; some marvellous things done on that day.

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