A rural mail delivery driver may have been trapped beneath her crashed vehicle in a remote hillside paddock west of Hastings for as long as four hours before she was rescued early on Thursday night.

The woman, who was in a critical condition late yesterday in the intensive care of Hawke's Bay Fallen Soldiers Memorial Hospital in Hastings, was rescued about 6pm on Thursday, after being found beneath a New Zealand Post Rural Mail van which had rolled about 20m down a bank before coming to a stop on its wheels in a paddock off remote upper Mangleton Rd, Kereru.

Emergency services were alerted to the crash just before 5.15pm, and two Fire Service rescue crews and the Lowe Corporation rescue helicopter went to the accident scene in an area between the Whakarara and Ruahine ranges.

Fire Service senior firefighter Mike Adie said it was about a 40-minute drive from Hastings, and when crews heard en route that the 60-year-old woman had been trapped for several hours beneath the van they were prepared for "the worst".


Arriving only moments after the rescue helicopter, they found the late-model van badly damaged but having come to rest on its wheels. It was in shade in a "lush green" paddock with the woman underneath the vehicle, and rescue vehicles were able to park alongside the crashed van.

A helicopter rescue spokesman said it appeared the woman had been thrown from the van during the latter stages of the fall, only to the have the vehicle land on top of her.

Local farmers with a tractor were about to lift the vehicle but the fire service began a controlled lift using airbags and the advice of paramedics to limit the possibility of worsening the condition of the woman, who appeared to be able to move some limbs and was able to talk with the rescuers during the lifting of the vehicle before she was stabilised by paramedics and flown to hospital. Mr Adie said he understood a woman, apparently from one of the few farms further up the no-exit road, had passed the scene earlier in the afternoon and noticed damage to the fenceline and other signs of a crash, but saw no one and formed the impression there was no emergency.

Realising later that mail and milk had not been delivered, the woman returned to the scene, discovered what had happened and called emergency services after finding mobile phone coverage nearby.

Judging by the time deliveries would have been expected, it was estimated the woman, reported to be aged 60, could have crashed up to four hours earlier.