A school bus driver has serious injuries after a 2kg piece of scaffolding pipe smashed through the windscreen of his bus carrying 38 high school students.
Despite being struck in the chest by the pipe, the driver pulled the bus over to the side of the road and stopped without any passengers or other road users being hurt.
The freak accident happened on the busy Onerahi Rd as the NorthBus-operated school bus approached the Onerahi hill about 3.35pm on Monday. It is thought the pipe bounced up off the road after falling off a truck in front of the bus.
The bus driver, in his 70s, was taken to Whangarei Hospital, then flown by helicopter to Auckland Hospital with injuries to his chest and abdomen.
Shane McMahon, operations chief executive for NZBus which owns NorthBus and Whangarei City Service, said he could not speak highly enough of the driver he described as "a humble hero".
"He's done a fantastic job bringing the bus to a halt. You don't want to think about what might have happened if it hadn't been for this fellow's presence of mind," Mr McMahon said.
When he visited the driver in Auckland Hospital yesterday, the man's first concern was "whether the kids on the bus were all okay," Mr McMahon said.
The driver asked his boss to pass on his thanks to the Whangarei Boys' High and Girls' High School passengers who took care of him before other help and then a St John ambulance arrived.
The driver's actions had prevented a terrible accident, Mr McMahon said.
"These guys are experienced and there's no substitute for that. They also develop a bond with those students they see every day, and the way those kids reacted in this case reflects that."
The company had sent its own thanks through the schools, praising the students' actions. Everyone had been traumatised by the incident, including the driver's family, colleagues, and the students on the bus, Mr McMahon said.
Another Whangarei City Service bus, which pulled over to help the injured driver, was able to take some of the students before another bus was dispatched. Some students who lived nearby had walked home.
The bus had a hole punched through its windscreen but, thanks to the driver's control, no other damage.