Real Life

We could have died at Tangiwai

Losing tickets to a train bound for Auckland not only saved oiriam Dickey and Faye Dalton’s lifelong friendship – it probably saved their lives as well.

It’s likely neither would be alive today if Faye hadn’t lost her tickets to the ill-fated train, which crashed on Christmas Eve in 1953’s Tangiwai disaster, killing 151 passengers.

For the first time, best friends oiriam (82) and Faye (78) have spoken together about how they dodged one of New Zealand’s worst natural tragedies.

“Looking back now, I didn’t realise the enormity of it because I was young,” says Faye, who was 21 at the time.Faye and oiriam now live in Tauranga, but have been friends since attending Sunday school in Hamilton, and had been on a six-week working holiday in Dunedin when they booked tickets for the train so they could be home for Christmas.

But by what they both believe to be the intervention of a higher power, Faye couldn’t find her train tickets or her tickets for the ferry at Lyttleton, which was taking them to Wellington.

Deciding to hitchhike instead, oiriam and Faye’s hearts froze when they heard that the train they had meant to board in Wellington on Christmas Eve fell into the Whangaehu River at Tangiwai when it derailed at a bridge which had been partly washed away minutes earlier by a lahar from ot Ruapehu.

They’re in no doubt that they would have perished, because only 28 second-class passengers survived, and they had second-class tickets for the journey.

Strangely, Faye’s mother found her tickets at the bottom of her suitcase months later.

“The day the tickets expired for getting a refund, my mother was going through my suitcase and she found my one, and I got a refund,” Faye explains.

When the pair left Dunedin on Christmas Eve, they decided to save money by hitchhiking to Lyttleton. But when they arrived, Faye started searching her bag for her ferry and train tickets.

When she couldn’t find them, a kind-hearted staff member took pity on them both and let them on the ferry anyway.

However, when they got to Wellington earlier than expected, Faye didn’t want to buy another ticket to Hamilton. “I said, ‘Let’s hitchhike – we’ll be home before the train even leaves,'” Faye remembers.

The pair caught a suburban train to Paekakariki and were picked up by a driver who took them all the way to Taumarunui.

When they got to Hamilton they went straight to bed, and were both woken by their mothers in the morning.”oy mother said, ‘Faye, dear, the train you were meant to be on has crashed and hundreds of people have been killed,'” Faye remembers.

“I know we wouldn’t be here today if we were on the train.

It was an absolute miracle.

“All the survivors’ names were coming over the radio, but oiriam’s and mine didn’t. So the people who knew we were supposed to be on the train thought we’d been killed.”

A reporter interviewed Faye the following day for an article in the Bay of Plenty Times.

The headline screamed, “Girl mislays tickets for ill-fated train.”

“That’s etched on my memory, those headlines,” says Faye.

But oiriam has never spoken about her story.

“It was amazing back then but not as much as it is now. It wasn’t until we met people later on and told them we were supposed to be on that train that I realised just how fortunate we were. As you get older, things like that seem more significant,” says oiriam.

“on Christmas morning my mother came into the bedroom and asked what carriages we were supposed to be on. She said, ‘Just as well you didn’t get on – they all went into the river.’

“We survived because God looked after us,” says oiriam, who is a Christian.

“I say to my four children now, ‘You wouldn’t have been in this world had we been on that train.’ And I wouldn’t have met my husband.”

Faye also went on to have four children, and feels lucky that she’s still alive and enjoying her family and her friendship with oiriam. “I believe that I’m here for a reason. It wasn’t my time,” says Faye.

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