Truck tragedy claims drivers life

By Amy Shanks

The body of a man has been pulled from the "unrecognisable" wreck of a truck, found submerged in Moawhango River yesterday, after plunging 50m from the road.

A dive squad from Wellington was called to assist police in the search for a 47-year-old Taihape truck driver reported missing by his wife after failing to return home from a trip to Hawke's Bay. The alarm was raised when she failed to reach him by phone and his employer - Farmer's Transport Feilding - received no reply via radio.

Another truck driver alerted police to the scene, about 30km from Taihape, at 8am yesterday after noticing skid marks on the road.

It was not long before the missing man's vehicle was discovered completely submerged in the swollen river's fast moving water.

Police confirmed a body was found by the dive squad about 3.30pm yesterday afternoon.

"The body was found in the cab of the truck and has been removed and taken back to Taihape for formal identification," Ruapehu Police Inspector Steve Mastrovich said.

It is believed the missing man, who had recently moved to Taihape from the Levin/Foxton area, was driving a truck and trailer unit loaded with lime, Mr Mastrovich said.

Locals who had gathered at the scene of the accident last night were astounded as the mangled truck was pulled from the water about 5pm.

"The cab is totally unrecognisable, you wouldn't even know it was a cab," Hawke's Bay Today photographer, Warren Buckland said.

A sharp left hand bend before the crash site bore no warning signs to slow down and it wasn't the first time a life had been lost there.

"Locals have been asking for something to be done about that corner, they want it to be changed," Mr Buckland said.

An investigation into the crash was still in its early stages, but weather and fatigue were both factors being explored.

"Definitely they will be looking at weather and road conditions, the truck itself, tiredness - all that will be examined," Mr Mastrovich said.

In another incident near Takapau in Central Hawke's Bay yesterday morning a 38-year-old truck driver escaped before flames engulfed the cab of his logging truck.

"He was just driving along and noticed fumes coming up from where the gear box comes up from the floor," Waipukurau Constable Andy Walker said.

"He pulled over and at one point when he was taking off his seat belt, he looked down and could see the flames rising up."

Another motorist came to his aid and the pair used an extinguisher to try and tame the blaze, to no avail.

Fire crews from Takapau and Norsewood eventually put out the fire.

"The cab was completely gutted," Mr Walker said.

No one was injured and it was not yet known how the fire started.

Another man died after a collision between a logging truck and a car in the Far North at about 3pm yesterday. The crash closed State Highway 1 near Ruapekapeka Rd, Towai.

And a 63-year-old Masterton truck driver is in a serious condition in Wairarapa Hospital after the logging truck he was driving slid out of control and flipped near Martinborough yesterday afternoon.

The incident happened at 1.15pm on Ponatahi Rd when the trailer flipped and slid down the road for about 65 metres before overturning the truck, police said.

It was estimated the truck and trailer unit was carrying 35-40 tonnes of gum logs, which were being taken to a firewood merchant in Martinborough.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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