Family in luckiest escape officer has ever seen

By Peter de Graaf

A young Northland family have luck and a quick-thinking passer-by to thank for their lives after a bizarre crash, described by a policeman as the luckiest escape he has ever seen.

The accident occurred just after 8am yesterday when a 26-year-old Kerikeri man missed a sharp corner as he was driving up Waipapa West Rd, Kapiro, and shot off a 10-metre high bank, just missing a crash barrier on one side and a large totara tree on the other. With him in the Mazda Lantis were a woman, a 4-year-old child and an 8-month-old baby.

The car grazed the tree and snapped off a branch as it flew over a swimming hole and landed nose-first in a paddock 20m away, flipping and coming to rest upside-down.

Constable Mark Roberts of Kerikeri police said a woman walking along State Highway 10 heard a bang and ran across a series of paddocks to reach the crash scene. She saw smoke was coming from the car with the family inside.

She pulled them from the wreck and moments later flames appeared.

When the Kerikeri fire brigade arrived, the car was burning fiercely.

Mr Roberts said the driver had a medical condition and may have blacked out.

The infant was uninjured, while the child was taken to Bay of Islands Hospital for a check-up. The woman suffered a broken wrist and head injuries, while the driver was merely dazed.

Police inquiries were continuing.

"They were extremely lucky. If they had gone through the gap 200mm the other way they would have collected a thick branch and gone straight down into the creek," Mr Roberts said.

The officer said it was the luckiest escape from serious injury or death he had seen in his 12-year policing career.

He praised the Kapiro woman, who had kept her cool and pulled the family from the smouldering wreckage.

"She did very well. That's most people's worst nightmare."

At the very least she would be getting a letter of commendation from the police, he said. After her rescue the woman carried on with her walk, saying she was heading home for a glass of water and a chance to calm down.

In the minds of many of the emergency workers yesterday was a horror crash near Tokoroa, which killed a family of five when their car plunged into a forest and was only discovered on Tuesday, days after they went missing. The Kapiro crash could have ended just as tragically.

- Northern Advocate

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