A crash victim has described a hero cop's life-saving leap into cold water to save a struggling man whose workmate died when their van plunged off a highway bridge on Monday.
Corey Crouch, who with his pregnant wife was lucky to walk away from a dramatic crash that claimed the life of a young worker, is struggling to come to terms with what happened just after 6pm on Tauranga's Maungatapu Bridge.
Daylight was fading when the 31-year-old was heading home to Te Puke along SH29, his wife Vicky sitting in the passenger seat. Traffic had been flowing calmly and slowly when suddenly, about halfway over the bridge, a maroon sedan in front of them violently jerked into the other lane.
"It was driving dead straight and then boom," a bruised Mr Crouch said from his home. "It just veered straight across into traffic and very abruptly - to the point I could actually see the front of his car.
"That's about all I could remember, apart from having to slam on the brakes ... and lots of twisted metal heading at us."
His car slammed into the vehicle in front and the couple were slammed back as the airbags deployed. After the impact his first fear was for his wife, who is 25 weeks pregnant, and their baby. Both survived the crash with no apparent harm.
Amid the chaos he then found the driver of the sedan, covered in blood and slumped unconscious upon his blown airbags.
"That's when we sort of turned and realised the other vehicle wasn't there anymore. The barrier on the bridge had gone, it was clear it had gone off."
Mr Crouch didn't even see the oncoming AMP'T Electrical van as it was knocked through the bridge railings and into the harbour metres below.
Those on the bridge quickly saw a man in the water, a 23-year-old passenger who had managed to escape the sinking van, struggling in the dark below.
"He wasn't keeping himself up ... and obviously with the impact he must have been quite delirious to get out of the van and make it as long as he did before he needed help."
One man harnessed himself with a strop and dived into the cold water after him, but was unable to reach him. Then a police officer turned up, made a quick assessment, and began to strip down.
Mr Crouch recalled seeing him taking off his boots before he was only in his underwear. "I know the guy that was in the water wasn't keeping his head up, so he made the right call. I don't think the guy would have lived if he hadn't."
The victim disappeared beneath the water but then re-surfaced as the 53-year-old officer grabbed hold of him. The officer calmed the man down as the pair were carried along in darkness by the current.
They reached safety exhausted, struggling to stand and suffering from hypothermia. Both were taken to Tauranga Hospital, along with Mr Crouch and his wife, and the driver of the sedan, a 45-year-old Papamoa man, who remained there last night.
The van was recovered by crane yesterday afternoon, with the driver, in his 20s, still inside.
When contacted last night, AMP'T Electrical director Brent Adler chose not to comment out of respect for his employee's family.
Police were investigating the cause of the crash.
Morton Anderson, from J A Russell electrical wholesalers, said the man who died in the crash would call into the store every few weeks. "He seemed like a nice young guy," he said.
"I didn't know him that well but he seemed to be a popular, well-liked guy who was good at his job."