Countless fatal car crashes couldn't prepare a former police officer for the moment he peered into last week's Pakipaki wreck to find his granddaughter's motionless face "behind streams of blood".
Tony Mako, a former senior constable with the police, said: "I've seen my fair share of accidents and fatals but never before have I had to attend any involving my family.
"They had just left home to go about their afternoon chores," he said, recalling last Friday afternoon's head-on crash with a milk tanker at the Pakipaki Rd and SH2 intersection.
In the car was Mr Mako's 27-year-old daughter, Annabel Mako, who was taking her daughters Lyrik Mako, 8, and Storm Mako, 1, to taekwondo practice in Hastings from Pakipaki School.
The former officer, who served for 22 years in the police in Wellington and Hawke's Bay, was at his home near the busy state highway when the crash happened.
"Someone came knocking on my door and said, 'There is a woman involved in an accident down the road looking for her parents'.
"I just put two and two together and knew immediately it was my family."
Arriving at the crash scene before any emergency services, he had run towards the truck to find Storm safely in the arms of another resident but no sign of Lyrik or his daughter.
"Then I saw my Annabel lying on the grass, but I couldn't find the car and now I'm desperately looking for my granddaughter," he said.
"After the impact [Annabel] managed to get out of the car and rescue [Storm] but she collapsed because of the abdominal pain and internal injuries."
As fear and adrenalin had begun to set in, his thoughts travelled to a road safety advertisement, he said.
"I started to think about that TV ad where the two fathers meet and talk to each other and the little boy watches the oncoming collision."
The grandfather found Lyrik still in the front passenger seat of the wrecked Mazda, which had crumpled around the 8-year-old.
"I looked at my granddaughter and she was just bloodied. I was looking through to her face behind streams of blood. I could see the whites of her eyes and I could see that she was motionless."
Firefighters eventually freed Lyrik from the car. She had a large gash on her forehead that needed several stitches and a broken arm.
"I can go back to school now," a cheerful Lyrik said outside Hawke's Bay Hospital yesterday, after having her stitches removed.
Ms Mako was discharged from hospital on Thursday and is recovering with her family. Storm was uninjured along with the truck driver.
"[Annabel] told me that she managed to reach over and brace and protect Lyrik as she screamed, 'Hang on'," Mr Mako said.
He added that all three in the car were wearing seatbelts and Storm was in an approved childseat.
"It's always been encouraged by the family, and by me, to always wear your seatbelt and the school enforces it in the vans they use, too.
"Baby car seats - I firmly believe in them. It goes back to my law enforcement days when we would launch campaigns to remind children to make it click."
He joked that local florists were busy during the past week as the Pakipaki community rallied around his family.
"Up and down the country, across the ditch, I want to acknowledge all the support from all our family and friends."
Police said yesterday their investigations into the crash were continuing.
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