Two people are dead and five others were in hospital last night after a crash yesterday at a notorious State Highway 1 blackspot north of Auckland.
A motorcycle and two cars collided on a passing lane by Wellsford Golf Club, 4km north of the treacherous Dome Valley, shortly before 3pm.
The two people killed died at the scene. Three others - one in a critical condition and two with serious injuries - were flown in helicopters to Auckland City Hospital.
Another two people with moderate and minor injuries were taken by road to North Shore Hospital.
One man who drove past the crash minutes after it happened said he was numbed by what he saw.
"There was a woman holding the motorcyclist in her lap because he was lying in the middle of the road, injured.
He still had his helmet on.
"I don't know how anyone would have gotten out of the cars, I don't know how anyone could have survived it. It was a complete mess of metal."
The man said it was impossible to tell how the crash happened because the cars were so mangled. "I've seen a few accidents in my time, but I don't know how anyone got out of that. The cars were completely wrecked and were torn apart all over the road ... The two cars were sitting on the left-hand side of the road as you headed into Wellsford, but there was no way of telling if that's the way they were meant to be going," he said.
Senior Constable Barry Rose of Wellsford police said the people killed were travelling in the same car. He said the motorcyclist "got away reasonably lightly".
The owner of the nearby Castle Court Motel, Grant Kerrisk, said the stretch of road between Wellsford and Warkworth was notorious for crashes.
Accidents usually happened when it rained after a long dry spell, Mr Kerrisk said. The road was wet yesterday.
"It's a very treacherous stretch of road. Crashes happen there all the time."
The district's Auckland councillor, Penny Webster, said the stretch desperately needed to be improved. The blind corners, terrain and camber of the road were all risk factors.
"It's a very, very dangerous piece of road there and it desperately needs to be improved otherwise these fatal crashes will keep happening."
The proposed Puhoi-to-Wellsford highway extension would drastically lower the death toll in the area, she said.
In December 2007, the old Transit NZ cut the limit on the 10km stretch through Dome Valley from 100km/h to 80km/h.
From then until May last year, there were 23 crashes, including three deaths, compared with 36 crashes and seven deaths in the three years before.
Yesterday's collision happened at the edge of the farm of Greg Brown, who rushed to the end of his driveway.
"There was this huge boom. I heard it from inside my house ... which is 150 to 200 metres from the road. It was unmistakably a bad crash."
When Mr Brown got to the end of the driveway, he saw the mangled wreckage of the cars.
"It was pretty horrific. I've never seen anything like it in my life ... You couldn't tell what was what. There were bits everywhere. You could tell the motorbike, but the others were completely pulled apart."
With the highway closed, police diverted southbound traffic onto Centennial Park and northbound traffic onto Wayby Valley Rd, south of Wellsford.
State Highway 1 did not reopen until 8.30 last night.