Rot caused close call

By Peter de Graaf

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The pole fell on to Binnie St, Paihia, dropping high-voltage lines across State Highway 11. PHOTO/PETER DE GRAAF
The pole fell on to Binnie St, Paihia, dropping high-voltage lines across State Highway 11. PHOTO/PETER DE GRAAF

A power pole that dropped 11,000-volt electricity cables on to a war veteran's car was rotten inside and down to less than half its normal strength.

Rex "Bud" Sisley, 89, and his wife were driving on Seaview Rd, Paihia, on April 15 when a falling power pole dropped high-voltage lines across the road and on to their car.

SCORCHED: The falling power lines set fire to the lining inside Mr Sisley's car. PHOTO/DARREN MARKIN
SCORCHED: The falling power lines set fire to the lining inside Mr Sisley's car. PHOTO/DARREN MARKIN

The arcing wires burnt holes through the roof and bonnet and melted the car's internal lining.

Mr Sisley kept driving until his car was free of the power lines, then called 111 when he reached their home in nearby Te Haumi. The couple were shaken but unhurt.

Mr Sisley doubted his trusty Toyota, which was "well and truly cooked", could be repaired.

The incident closed SH11 for six hours and cut power to about 1000 households and businesses.

Top Energy chief executive Russell Shaw said ultrasound testing of the pole showed it was down to less than 50 per cent of its normal strength. Water seeping in at ground level had caused the pole to rot from the inside out.

All poles in the district were tested every five years and any that were under 50 per cent in strength were replaced.

The pole that had fallen near the corner of Binnie Rd and Seaview Rd had last been tested four years ago. Had it not fallen the rotten pole would have been picked up by routine inspection and replaced later this year, he said.

New poles were concrete or galvanised steel. Only 5 per cent of poles in the district were still made of wood.

Mr Shaw said there were no plans to increase inspections. Once every five years was industry standard and that had been in place for many years. It was "extremely rare" for a pole to fall if it had not been hit by a vehicle or pulled down by a truck running into wires.

Mr Shaw said he had visited Mr Sisley and inspected his car. He had been in the industry for many years but never seen anything like it.

He commended Mr Sisley for staying calm and doing exactly the right thing - staying in the vehicle, driving to safety and calling emergency services. Stopping and getting out of the car would have been the worst thing to do, he said.

The company had made an offer to Mr Sisley on Thursday to ensure he was "not inconvenienced in any way" by the loss of his vehicle.

The arcing power lines melted a series of holes in Mr Sisley's car. PHOTO / DARREN MARKIN
The arcing power lines melted a series of holes in Mr Sisley's car. PHOTO / DARREN MARKIN

Mr Sisley said he was in discussions with Top Energy and they are due to meet again on Tuesday. The company had been "quite amenable" but he believed its timber power poles should be inspected more frequently than once every five years, possibly every two.

The totara pole that fell must have been there a long time, he said. His wife was still shaken by the experience.

"Having 11,000 volts shooting over and under your car isn't very pleasant. We were very, very lucky to get away with it."

Earlier Mr Sisley told the Advocate he found it ironic he had survived two years of heavy shelling in the Korean War only to narrowly escape electrocution by a falling power pole.

- Northern Advocate

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