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New Zealand

Woman defends train driver accused of crash that claimed 21 lives, including father and brother

The train left the Central Otago tracks on June 4, 1943.
photograph: Otago Daily Times

An Otago-born author who studied the train crash that tore his family apart 80 years ago says he believes the driver was made a scapegoat for the tragedy.

Today marks the anniversary of the 1943 Hyde Railroad Crash in Central Otago that killed 21 people and injured 47 more.

At 1:45 p.m., about five minutes from Hyde Station, a steam locomotive pulling seven cars carrying 121 passengers pulled off the track at a breakneck speed.

It was the worst rail accident in the country until Christmas Eve 1953 when 151 people lost their lives in the Tangiwai tragedy.

The driver, John Corcoran, was sentenced to three years in prison for being involved in the accident after being accused of driving under the influence of alcohol and speeding.

Elizabeth Coleman wrote a book about the tragedy and led a group behind a memorial erected near the crash site in 1991.

Hyde train accident memorial near Hyde pic sam 01a15820

Memorial Cologne.
photograph: Otago Daily Times / Sam Henderson

She was four and a half years old when her father and brother died and her other brother was also seriously injured in an accident.

She said she believed Corcoran was under pressure, including speeding to meet tight timetables and driving trains on poorly maintained tracks.

“I think Corcoran was a decent man. [He] He went to prison and was very repressed after that. One told me that he used to go to the pub and he sat very quietly. He would have been horrified at the blame, but it wasn’t his fault,” Coleman said.

She said she still remembers the moment her mother was told about the accident.

“Even at four and a half years old, I still remember how it affected our family. When someone told me my father and John were dead, my mother was held up to prevent her from falling to the floor. She just started collapsing and they restrained her,” Coleman said.

She said she still feels the effects of the tragedy, which “teared my family in two.”

Memorial to the Hyde Rail Accident near Hyde, June 4, 1943 pic Sam 01a15822

The cenotaph bears the names of the 21 victims.
photograph: Otago Daily Times / Sam Henderson

She began talking to her mother and, after experiencing depression and panic attacks in the late 70s, began researching the incident at the recommendation of a counselor.

“I’ve been to that place [where it happened] Rubble and glass shards can still be picked up from the bank where the engine crashed. It’s still there,” Coleman said.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/491304/woman-defends-train-driver-blamed-for-crash-that-claimed-21-lives-including-her-dad-brother Woman defends train driver accused of crash that claimed 21 lives, including father and brother

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