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Fifteen die in Northland bus tragedy

7 February 1963

Brynderwyn disaster memorial
Brynderwyn disaster memorial

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, between Whangārei and Wellsford, and plunged down a steep slope. The driver, who had managed to negotiate most of the descent in third gear, was injured.

Many of the victims were related, including four generations of one family. Most were buried on marae at Helensville and Māngere, with Prime Minister Keith Holyoake and other dignitaries in attendance.

The tragedy evoked painful memories of the Tangiwai rail disaster during a previous royal visit. It occurred 100 years to the day after New Zealand’s worst-ever shipwreck.

An inquiry found that the rear brake drums on the bus were badly worn, while the brake fluid for the foot brakes had escaped through a seal that had failed under pressure. Subsequent regulations stipulated that new buses must have dual braking systems, and bus operators were required to keep a record of all repair work undertaken. Standing passengers were prohibited on long-distance bus trips.

A memorial to the victims of the disaster was unveiled by descendants on 7 February 2003. It remains the worst road accident in New Zealand history.

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Fifteen die in Northland bus tragedy, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated