A bus travelling back from Paihia to Port Waikato on the Brynderwyns on the morning of 7 February, 1963, crashed when the brakes failed. The bus was completely smashed, killing 15 people.
A bus chartered to make the return trip from Port Waikato to the Bay of Islands for the Waitangi Day celebrations, left Paihia on the morning of 7 February. After a lunch break at Whangarei, the bus with its load of 35 passengers headed south to the Brynderwyns, a range of hills lying between Waipu and Wellsford, with a steep, narrow and winding road.
At the top of Pilbrow’s Hill, the highest point on the road, the driver pulled to the side for a brief stop. When the bus continued, the brakes failed almost immediately. The driver tried to control the downhill race by changing gear and using the handbrake, but the bus continued to increase its speed. The driver decide to try and keep driving down the hill knowing that there was a straight road at the bottom. He knew that the wooden body of the bus would shatter easily if he tried to stop the bus by steering it into the bank at the side of the road. Unfortunately the bus failed to take the last bend, smashing through a wire fence and rolling down a 30 metre slope to the Piroa Stream.
A local farmer heard the noise of the crash and went to the scene of the accident while his daughter called the rescue services. The bus was completely destroyed in the accident, killing 15 people.
How many died?
15 people died.
Other events and outcomes
A commission of enquiry found that the accident had been the result of brake failure. Sixteen months later, the passenger service vehicle construction regulations were changed, in particular the requirements for brakes and handbrakes on buses and other passenger vehicles.
More information and sources
- Darkest days, Bruce Morris, Auckland, 1987.
- Find resources in our catalogue about The Brynderwyns
- Brynderwyn tragedy: The nightmare never fades, The New Zealand Herald, Feb 7 2013.
- Images of the Brynderwyn disaster memorial from NZHistory