Whangarei school bus driver Sam Fife feels lucky to have escaped with a split liver and a few broken ribs after a steel pole came hurtling through his windshield on Monday.
A millisecond later and it could have killed him, or a child, he says.
Mr Fife, who has been driving buses for about 40 years, was carrying 38 Whangarei students home after school when a pole weighing between 2kg and 3kg fell off the back of an approaching truck on Onerahi Rd, bounced twice end-over-end, and crashed through the windshield, slamming into his chest.
"It took my breath away completely, I couldn't breathe," he said from his ward in Auckland City Hospital yesterday.
"The first thing I thought about was the kids, to make sure they were safe, so I just pulled over to the side as quickly as I could."
Mr Fife's actions are being credited with potentially saving lives, because if he hadn't managed to stop, the bus could have hurtled down a bank or crashed into oncoming traffic.
A group of Whangarei Girls High students - Caitlyn Burrell, 12, Puke Hau, 13, and Samantha Calver, 14 - rushed to his aid, wiping the blood from his face and rubbing his back to help him breathe.
"I thought it had shattered my chest and I had visions that my heart wasn't going to work again," he said. "I thought it may have been the end."
He felt lucky to have escaped with a split liver and two or three broken ribs, and especially that the pole had missed the students. "If it had been six inches up or six inches across it would have been fatal ... or it could have hit a kid through one of the side windows."
Mr Fife praised the staff at Auckland and Whangarei Hospitals, and the young girls who had helped him.
"They stepped up.
"You think that maybe they're a bit scatty, but they're not really."
He had the steel pole at home, and would probably take it to work as a souvenir. "If all else fails we'll sell it for scrap metal."
Mr Fife was reluctant to accept the "hero" label which has been bestowed on him.
"It's part of my job and that's what they train me for; they put me through courses and things like that to prepare me for this sort of thing."
He hoped to return to work soon.
Caitlyn Burrell this week described for the Northern Advocate how the girls responded. "I dialled 111 and held a T-shirt to his head because there was so much blood."
Sergeant Daniel Cleaver said the driver of the truck which had been carrying the pole was yet to be identified.
However a member of the public had noted the company the vehicle came from, and police had been notified and were trying to work out who was behind the wheel.
It was possible the driver was unaware the pole had come loose.
- APNZBy Matthew Theunissen Email Matthew