Sound clip: passenger on the Wahine

Hear the recollections of a female passenger who was aboard the Wahine when it sank.


Interviewer: Was there much panic when people started to leave the Wahine?

Passenger: There was. There was confusion when they said everybody go to the starboard side of the boat. I have to admit I still don't know which is the starboard side of a boat.

Interviewer: Even now?

Passenger: Even now. And if it hadn't been for one of the helpful crew, I wouldn't have known which way to go.

Interviewer: What could you see from the ship?

Passenger: When we [went] out to which was obviously the starboard side of the boat, it was very, very high up in the water because it was listing badly, and there was a small speck down on the sea, which later I discovered was tugboat, or something of that nature, but it just looked like a dirty mark on the ocean. The sea was very rough and the mist was down, but when we stood at the gap in the railing preparing to leave the ship, I knew where I was because I had lived in Wellington as a child and I knew that Seatoun beach was over there.

Interviewer: What else was going on board at the time, Louella? Memories of that – of food – Who was feeding? What was happening there? I mean were people handing round …?

Passenger: Yes they were bringing round food and drink. Ice cream to the children was a great treat was probably how they looked at.

Interviewer: So when did you first become aware that okay we're over the side here – this is it? You know – what were your thoughts? What were your feelings?

Passenger: Just before I left the Wahine, I was quite prepared to meet my Maker, I suppose you would say. The faces of my family flashed past me. I thought I've been in the air force six weeks; that entitles me to a military funeral, and the relatives are all in the South Island, in Dunedin and Invercargill. It's too far for them to travel, and after something like this, they probably wouldn't want to travel anyhow, so they'll probably send a nice lot of flowers.

Interviewer: Isn't it amazing what goes through your mind?

Passenger: Yes, it does, but that's the only time though I did think anything like that. They kept saying boats are coming out from Wellington and you will be rescued, but I sort of felt, well, that's just to jolly us along and pacify us, but I really didn't see how they could get any more craft there quickly enough when we were listing so badly.

Interviewer: So what was your situation? Did you hit the water or were you in a boat?

Passenger: Well, my statement to the police says that I was actually manhandled forty feet, but it really wasn't like that [at] all. I was one of the last people to leave the Wahine, and they'd run out of life-rafts. The life-rafts, as they hit the sea because of the wind and the sea were sort of being taken away without being used, and it appeared there wasn't anything left, and there were, I don't know, 15 to 20 people maybe left on the boat at this stage. Somebody from somewhere found a life-raft, and it was put into the sea, but it was upside down. A member of the crew and the father of two children who were there with their mother as well jumped into the sea and one either side of it tried to righten the life-raft so that we could sit in it, but because of the conditions they were unable to do that, so they stayed one either side and held it upside down so when it came time to go, a member of the crew grabbed you, one under each armpit and threw you the forty feet from the Wahine to this upside [down] life-raft. Fortunately they had a good aim and I landed in the middle of the raft.

Interviewer: With your life jacket on?

Passenger: With my life jacket on.

Interviewer: And what happened after that?

Passenger: The two children were thrown to me, and everybody else that was sort of left there at the time managed to end up on the life-raft. We had an army staff sergeant with us who assumed command. I knew he was a staff sergeant because I was very proud of the fact that I could recognise other ranks.

Interviewer: So he took control?

Passenger: He took control and suggested that we might paddle quite quickly because the Wahine was listing badly, and the ropes and the pulley things that had let the life-boats down were there, and we were sort of a bit caught up in them with the Wahine coming down on top of us as the swell brought us in on our upside-down life-raft.

Interviewer: What are your strongest memories, Louella, on what took place that day?

Passenger: I have very strong memories of seeing a person dead for the very first time in my life. While we were sort of sitting out in the middle of the harbour, the Aramoana came up to act as a windbreak, and because we were sort of in the middle of this upside-down life-raft, the wind caught us and was bringing us back up the harbour towards Cook Strait. Fortunately we didn't go too far, but a lady floated past, and I tried to pull her into the life-raft, but because it was upside down, there wasn't any sort of a wall or a rim of which to try and sort of drag her in, and somebody on the life-raft manoeuvred themselves around, had a look at her, opened [her] eyes because her eyes were closed, and I just thought she was unconscious, and said, 'Sorry, dear, we'll have to leave her; she's dead'. But her body was picked up by one of the small boats later. I did see that happen.

Interviewer: And the feeling when you got to the beach?

Passenger: I went to the wharf. Relieved to put my feet on the ground, and still not, I suppose, really realising possibly, what actually had happened.

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3 comments have been posted about Sound clip: passenger on the Wahine

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Posted: 20 Oct 2013

Very cool. Apparently that life raft that was upside down was a 12 year old girl named Debbie Atherton who has a diary based on that event. The books called Abandon Ship!


Posted: 17 Sep 2009

Interesting...very interesting...this was a big help coz i got an essay for the Wahine and we have to find an interview with a survivor. THANX SO MUCH!!!