Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Does anyone know of Eroni Vaceucau?
Searching for a hero is a great story in today's Fiji Times as a New Zealand woman would like to find the man who rescued her in a maritime disaster in 1968. Perhaps his family will read the story in today's papers. The story reminds me of the Loch Ard shipwreck at Port Campbell, but that was in the 1870s when Eva Carmichael was rescued by a young midshipman, Tom Pearce. Both were eighteen at the time.
Kiwi woman looks for her heroWednesday, April 09, 2008
19-year-old Kate McGibbon (now Watson) and her rescuer Eroni Vakacegu on the shore near Eastbourne, on April 10, 1968. Picture: Courtesy of Kate Watson
Update: 2:37PM A New Zealand woman is looking for the Fijian man who rescued her in a maritime disaster 40 years ago.
Kate Watson, 59, was 19 when the Wahine capsized and sank, claiming 51 lives and deemed as New Zealand's worst maritime disaster 40 years ago. And she will never forget Eroni Vakacegu, who saved her life. Ms Watson, an artist now living in Queenstown, recalls her life jacket flipping back over her head when she hit the sea. She said Mr Vakacegu grabbed and pulled her into a rubber dinghy, directing the 10 people on board to a safe landing at Pencarrow Heads.
Mr Vakacegu was later singled out by the Court of Inquiry for his heroism in distributing the people in (the life raft)" and in doing so to ensure its safe passage to the eastern shore before going back into the surf after reaching the shore to help another survivor.
Ms Watson has made the photo of the pair available in the hope that someone might pass on information about the man who saved her life. This image and her story can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/4lbyfc
As New Zealand remembers its worst maritime disaster 40 years on, her story of rescue and heroism is told on the website www.NZHistory.net.nz as part of the feature on the event at http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/wahine-disaster.
from the recommended website: (Notice the different spelling of name)
A Fijian heroThe Court of Inquiry into the Wahine disaster reported that:
'A Fijian named Eroni Vaceucau rendered great service to other people both on the vessel and at the abandonment and later by taking charge of a liferaft, distributing the people in it to best advantage, doing much to ensure its safe passage to the eastern shore, and then going back into the surf after reaching the shore to help another survivor.'
And an excerpt from her story:
For some reason I ended up on the Port side of the ship instead of the Starboard where we were meant to be to get on the life boats. I came across a man from Fiji [Eroni Vaceucau] who was also on the Port side I presume helping to get people off. I quickly told him I was lost and could he help me get off. He told me to be very careful and follow him. I can remember climbing around the outside rail of the deck and being really terrified in case I slipped, as that would have been the end of me if I did lose my grip!! Then we slid down a kind of chute and were onto the lower part of ship on starboard side. The Fijian jumped in the sea and I followed him. Luckily he was there to grab me, as my life jacket had flipped back over my head on impact after jumping into the sea. Obviously I hadn't done it up properly and there was no one who had time to check those kinds of things while on the ship. The waves were still quite big and there was a large swell, although it was no where as bad as earlier on. The Fijian man pulled me into a rubber dingy. There were about 10 people in it. We were being tossed around a lot and every time a big wave came at us, we all had to pull the edges of the dingy up to try and ride the wave. The Fijian man was giving directions. We were all singing songs and one woman was saying her prayers. We sang cheerful songs like 'pack up your troubles in an old kit bag' etc!! We seemed to drift out to sea again and it seemed to be hours, but probably only about 1½ hrs, before we were taken over to Pencarrow heads by the currents. We came ashore over there riding in on some very big waves and nearly losing our balance a few times. Luckily we missed all the rocks around the area. Others were not so lucky. It was a wonderful feeling being on land again. Everyone seemed a bit dazed.