Anna Leask

Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Crash survivor keen to return to NZ

Exclusive: Critically injured Chilean tourist recalls July tragedy

Benjamin Blake says he wants to return to New Zealand. Photo / supplied
Benjamin Blake says he wants to return to New Zealand. Photo / supplied

The only survivor of a car crash that killed four South American tourists has spoken about his recovery and his plan to return to New Zealand.

Benjamin Blake, 25, was travelling home from a game of indoor football when a head-on collision claimed the lives of his four friends - Argentine skifield workers Nicolas Ursic, 27, German Caceres, 35, Agustin Donofrio, 25, and Luciano Pucheta, 19.

The men were travelling through National Park towards Whakapapa when they struck a truck and trailer while overtaking another vehicle.

Mr Blake survived but suffered a broken left leg, two broken bones in his left forearm, two broken ribs and grazes on his body. He spent almost a month in Waikato Hospital before he was well enough to return to Chile.

He has now spoken exclusively to the Herald.

"Despite everything that happened, I recall New Zealand with much affection. Many times I feel like returning and to continue with what I was doing before the accident. I was there for five months, and know many people and incredible places," he said.

Mr Blake was touring New Zealand with his girlfriend Macarena.

He said the crash and his injuries had been hard for her to deal with but she was "slowly recapturing what she had before the trip to New Zealand".

Mr Blake had spoken with the families of the dead men but was reluctant to talk about it - or how he was coping emotionally. He said he wanted to keep that side of his recovery private.

However, he did talk about his relief and happiness at being able to return to Chile.

"I also started to feel nostalgia for New Zealand and the powerlessness of not being able to go through with what I had planned.

"I remember New Zealand with fondness ... We got to know incredible people and places."

Mr Blake said he still remembered "very little" about the crash.

"I only have a fuzzy memory of a few, very large lights just before the crash, which must have been the truck's lights," he said.

"Before the accident I remember almost everything: the football game and the car trip up to the accident."

When he woke in hospital he could see lots of doctors looking at him.

"They had just operated on my abdomen with a lot of anaesthetic, which is why my memory is not that clear. But I did not understand much. I wanted them to explain to me what had happened," he said.

"My recovery has been good, thanks to the orthopaedic surgeons and trauma team. I feel better and every week have more mobility.

"The injuries that persist today are mainly all the trauma where they operated with plates and screws: the right tibia, the left forearm, the left hand, left collarbone, left shoulder blade," he said.

Mr Blake said he was having physiotherapy and would have surgery to remove a plate in his left collarbone.

- NZ Herald

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