December 24th, 2003

Amak Axver


Fifty years ago today, the Wellington to Auckland express crashed at 10:21pm New Zealand time.

Out of 176 second class passengers, only 28 survived.
Out of 12 passengers travelling from Masterton to Auckland, only ONE survived.
My Grandpa.

I know the story like the back of my hand. The 3pm express to Auckland was packed, so much so that a second train had to be put on. Eleven wagons long, headed by Ka 949, it steamed north, no-one on board having any idea what fate was to befall the train.

Not long after 8pm, an ash wall on the edge of the crater lake of Mount Ruapehu collapsed, releasing a torrent of water, a lahar that shot down the Whangaehu River. It reached Tangiwai (Maori for "weeping waters") at 10:15 as a wall of water, sand, rocks, and other rubble. It caused fatal structural damage to the railway bridge - and washed out others further downstream - and when the train hit it, the lahar was still coming through. With its structural integrity compromised, the crash ensued, with Ka 949 launched high into the air, nearly making it to the other side. The next five wagons, the five second class ones containing 176, plunged straight into the churning river and were torn to shreds. The sixth wagon, the first 1st class wagon, teetered on the edge of the bridge before rolling in. Of the 24 in this wagon, only one died, a girl stuck in her seat. The remaining wagons - first class carriages, a mail wagon, and the guard's van - stayed on the track, with many passengers unaware of what had just occurred up the front.

Down in the river, it was chaos. Wagons were ripped in two, roofs and walls were torn off, the oil from the engine poured into the river, and many perished. Photos of what was left are shocking, and if my scanner was working I'd scan some on. It's just appalling. It's hard to believe anyone survived in some of the wagons - they were so well and truly shredded. My Grandpa was knocked unconscious and when he came to, he found himself up a tree with only his belt and scraps of his vest on; the force of the water had ripped everything else off. My great uncles, Grandma's brothers, sadly, weren't as lucky. Douglas and John Cockburn both perished.

The death toll was 151 - the driver and fireman, one first class passenger, and 148 second class passengers - making it the eighth worst rail disaster at the time of occurrence, and still stands as the third worst disaster in New Zealand history. I despise it when train crashes that result in only a couple of deaths are called a disaster - Tangiwai was a disaster, not some thing that everyone forgets about a couple of weeks later.

I still can't believe how my Grandpa survived. When I look at it, I realise just how incredibly lucky I am to be here, because the accident occurred before my Dad was born or Grandma and Grandpa were married. Ever since Tangiwai, Grandpa hasn't travelled on a train. He simply can't.

It's a really moving and sad anniversary.

Some links with more;,2106,2764168a10,00.html (Some absolute fuckwits are going to cost more lives. I don't care if the measures to stop another disaster will compromise some World Heritage Site's status - Tangiwai was fucking enough. Surely the government isn't stupid enough to let this go unchecked),2106,2764173a11,00.html
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Amak Axver

Non-Tangiwai post

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Apparently it's Christmas tomorrow, so I'm going to head to bed at a reasonable hour tonight. I'd rather not, though. It doesn't feel like Christmas. This post I made on a messageboard about half an hour ago sums it up quite well;

'According to some people, it's actually Christmas Eve, and in less than two hours, it will be Christmas. What's up with that? It doesn't feel like Christmas at all this year, and it's not just because of Tangiwai [OK, so my subject line lied, there is a minor Tangiwai reference]. For me, Christmas has had all meaning sucked right out of it in a wave of materialism, or if not that, it's been smothered to death by a fat man in a red suit bringing little bundles of greed to children too young to understand.

Call me a killjoy; I really don't care. Instead of making me happy, Christmastime this year has sent me apathetically cynical. Right now, it feels like it's either early December or January 17-y (aka my birthday-y) to me. I'm sick of the stupid attitudes that relate to Christmas, I'm sick of all this "They're getting me a present so I better get them one!" nonsense, I'm sick of how it's just been turned into an excuse to be selfish and materialistic. Is it really that hard to keep the real meaning in something? Is it really that hard to not twist it into something totally irrelevant? It's now just this meaningless, hollow celebration where people sing carols without giving any thought to the words they're singing or the reason why they're singing them. I can't stand it, I truly can't. I want meaning back, I want the reason and the truth, not some stupid festival that crowds shopping centres. Shouldn't it crowd churches instead? Why do we open presents? Shouldn't we open our Bibles? Why do we talk to family? Shouldn't we talk to God?

And yet, the only reason I'm bothering to get up tomorrow morning - apart from to listen to U2 and get on my computer - is because of the presents. That may be selfish and materialistic, but it's all that's left in Christmas for me now. The meaning's gone, and it feels so hollow that I can't restore it in myself. It truly is just another day, nothing special at all.'

In other news, it'll feel like I'll be playing Santa soon. Why? Because I'm yet to put my Mum's presents under the tree (I'm lazy; they've been sitting, wrapped, in a plastic bag for the last few days), so I'll sneak out and do that when I get offline.

I'm not feeling that well today, which, unlike what you may think, is actually a GOOD thing. If I am sick tomorrow, I might not have to go to the family gathering/meal/thing that I don't want to go to. I can only hope. I've never been ill on Christmas before, and there's no better time than now to start. Whoever said being sick was always bad?

ADSL modem/router arrived today, so now I just need to wait for news from the ISP that the line is ready. Cannot wait to get myself on FAST Internet. Whee! Lots of music, here I come ...
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