Tyres save couple from frying

By Peter de Graaf

2 comments
FREAK ACCIDENT: The pole fell on to Binnie St, Paihia, draping high-voltage lines across State Highway 11. PHOTO/PETER DE GRAAF
FREAK ACCIDENT: The pole fell on to Binnie St, Paihia, draping high-voltage lines across State Highway 11. PHOTO/PETER DE GRAAF

An 89-year-old war veteran thought he was about to be fried when a falling power pole dropped an 11,000 Volt powerline onto his car, scorching it from end to end.

Rex "Bud" Sisley and his wife were heading home to Te Haumi, just south of Paihia, about 9am yesterday when there was a mighty crash and a flash.

"My wife got a hell of a fright. She to wanted to get out of the car, but I said 'no way'."

The engine was still running so Mr Sisley kept driving until his car was free of the lines, then carried on all the way home where he called 111.

His car was "well and truly cooked". It was scorched from one end to the other and "stank to high heaven". The cable had also punched holes in the roof.

It was only the rubber tyres that saved them, Mr Sisley said.

"It's a one in a million. I don't know why it picked on us. We've been up and down that road hundreds of times.

We're a bit lucky to be alive."

The veteran found it ironic that he had survived two years of heavy shelling in Korea only to narrowly escape electrocution by falling power pole.

The incident closed State Highway 11 for six hours, forcing motorists to take long detours to Opua and Kawakawa, and cut power to about 1000 households.

It was not clear at edition time what had caused the wooden pole to fall over. There was no sign it had been hit by a vehicle.

The pole fell onto Binnie Rd, a sidestreet off Seaview Rd/SH11 between Paihia and Te Haumi, and dropped several 11kV cables across the highway.

Another set of cables remained suspended above the highway, above head height but low enough to snare a truck.

Police closed Seaview Rd at the intersection with MacMurray Rd in Paihia and diverted Paihia-bound traffic at a number of points along SH11. The road reopened just before 3pm.

A contractor working nearby said he heard a sound like an pipe falling on the road, then found himself trapped between two sets of downed power lines. He waited until Top Energy workers could reassure him the power was off.

"Apparently there was a blue flash too but I didn't see that. All in all it was pretty lucky," he said.

Top Energy spokeswoman Philippa White said the cause would not be known until the pole could be removed and inspected. It had been replaced with a concrete pole.

Initially about 1000 customers were left without electricity. That was later reduced to about 200, whose power was restored when the new pole was installed around 3pm. The company had a rotating maintenance programme for its power poles, she said.

She said Mr Sisley and his wife did the right thing.

"Don't get out of your car and drive to safety if you're in a position to do so, as this man has done. We appreciate it would have been a frightening situation but he did exactly the right thing."

She urged all Northlanders to treat all power lines as live at all times.

Mr Sisley's car, a trusty Toyota Corona, is now at a panelbeater's in Kawakawa. Given the "roasting" it had suffered he doubted he would drive it again.

Mr Sisley trained as an aircraft gunner in World War II then volunteered for the Korean War as part of the 16th Field Regiment. He farmed in Taranaki and Waikato before he and his wife moved to the Bay of Islands in 1984, lured by the warmth and good fishing.

The Paihia Fire Brigade also responded to yesterday's incident. Firefighters helped direct traffic until contractors took over.

Most businesses in central Paihia were unaffected by the power outage.

- Northern Advocate

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