Napier grandmother Nan Sullivan could tell someone was travelling too fast - then there was a crash.
But little could have prepared her for the scene beyond the trees where five vehicles littered the Napier-Wairoa road between Tutira and Putorino, closing part of the road for three hours late yesterday.
It was the worst crash on Hawke's Bay roads in a fatality-free first seven days of the holiday period.
At the scene, district police commander Superintendent Grant Nichols said he was hopeful there would be no more additions to the region's high road toll for the year.
Helicopters and ambulances took 10 people to Hawke's Bay Hospital, Hastings. Another person, treated at the scene, went to hospital later.
Hawke's Bay Hospital staff reported the injured - six males and five females - ranged in age from 13 to 61 years. Five were expected to be admitted overnight, mostly with moderate injuries. One was more seriously hurt but was not considered to be critical.
Mrs Sullivan was coming in from the clothesline at the home of daughter Lovey and son-in-law Tony Pullar just before 4.30pm when the crash happened 300 metres away.
"I said to my grandson 'listen to that speed' ... and then the crash, bump ... bump," she said.
Her daughter, a member of the Putorino volunteer fire brigade, phoned the emergency services. Mr Pullar raced his farm bike to the crash scene but was back minutes later, making sure the helicopters were called as well.
The region's new Serious Crash Investigation Unit was called to a confusing scene, with a badly wrecked Nissan Terrano in the middle of the highway, another vehicle on its wheels at the side and, a few metres north, a Subaru Legacy stoved into the roof of an overturned van just off the road.
The fifth vehicle, a van, stopped several hundred metres north of the crash site.
Sergeant Corey Ubels of the Hastings police said four vehicles were travelling downhill to the north, and one uphill in a southbound lane governed by a yellow no-passing line.
Mr Nichols said all the occupants appeared to have been wearing seatbelts.
All but two were out of the vehicles when ambulances arrived. One person was cut from the most-badly damaged vehicle, the Terrano.
The most seriously hurt were flown to Hawke's Bay Hospital by rescue heliopters from Hastings and Gisborne, while the others were transported by ambulances.
Mr Nichols feared the worst when he was alerted but although no-one appeared to have life-threatening injuries, he said: "This an absolute tragedy, happening at this time of the year."
Traffic was detoured through back roads and the road reopened after 7.30pm.