Patrice Dougan is the Herald's education reporter.

Mystery crash heroine's bravery

Rutger Hale died when an unknown object smashed through his windscreen
His girlfriend quickly pulled his foot from the accelerator
She grabbed the wheel and steered the car to safety

Rutger Hale and his Alaskan girlfriend, Danielle.
Rutger Hale and his Alaskan girlfriend, Danielle.

The family of a young Auckland man killed when an unknown object smashed through his vehicle's windscreen near Wanaka say his girlfriend is traumatised by the crash.

Rutger Telford Hale, 22, and his Alaskan girlfriend Danielle Oylear, 26, were travelling to work early on Thursday morning when the mystery object crashed through the windscreen, killing the young man and ricocheting out the back window.

Ms Oylear - known as Deezy Dee to her friends - was forced to grab the steering wheel and lift her boyfriend's foot off the accelerator, to bring the car to a stop.

The couple had recently moved to Hawea, near Wanaka, where Mr Hale had secured a job as a farm hand. They met while Mr Hale was travelling across the US on a 17,700km road trip.

Mr Hale's great-uncle, Peter Phillips, said the crash had been "massively traumatic'' for Ms Oylear; a life-changing event which he said she would "never ever get ...

out of her head''.

"She hasn't just lost a partner. What she had to endure in that hour you wouldn't wish to happen to anybody,'' he said.

He said he had been "stunned'' when he was contacted by police about the crash, but had not realised the extent of the freak incident.

"I didn't know how bad it had been until I got there to get her [Ms Oylear] and then they told me,'' he said. ``I just thought he [Mr Hale] had a car accident, I didn't realise the enormity of it and what she had to endure. It was far out. I don't know how she got through it.

"If there had been another car coming, there would have been two victims, I don't doubt that. When I saw what she had to do and how far the car had went, I was shocked.''

Mr Phillips described Ms Oylear as an "amazing girl, a beautiful girl'', and said the couple were very much in love.

"They were only here last weekend, they came up from the farm for dinner and stayed the night with us,'' he said.

"They were just pinching themselves, squealing with delight that they had scored the jobs, the place to live. Everything was working out for them.

"It's where they both wanted to be, in the wilderness with the mountains close by.''

He later added: "It was beautiful to see them last week, so happy.''

Mr Phillips said his great-nephew had "touched a lot of people without even realising it''.

"There's a lot of people wishing they could live as simply and as happily as they lived, because even I was envious when they came up here [last week],'' he said.

"I thought, `I wish I was 22 again and had that energy, that belief in myself and his freedom and joy around everything he was approaching'. [It was] just incredible.

"The average 22-year-old would have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, but not him, and she was the same. They had a real bond.

"They've just been joined at the hip since they first met.''

Mr Hale's body has now been released by the coroner and was making its way up to Auckland where his family live. Funeral arrangements have not yet been finalised, but Mr Phillips said it was likely there would be a service in Auckland followed by a small blessing in Hawea to scatter some of his ashes there.

Mr Hale's mother and sister, who had flown down to stay with Mr Phillips, have now gone back to Auckland to make arrangements for the funeral. Ms Oylear has gone with them, and was due to meet her mother who has flown from Alaska to join the mourners.

- NZ Herald

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