'I was going to talk to him and forgive him'

By Jimmy Ellingham

A second here and a second there make all the difference. If he hadn't gone to latch a gate, Raphael Giles would have been sitting in the car when a giant Fonterra milk tanker struck it. Instead, seconds later, he was running to his wife Chantelle and friends John and Cherry Bayne in their crumpled car. More seconds passed in a fog of shock. Next he was in the back of an ambulance, sitting next to tanker driver Michael Fairclough. "He touched my arm and said sorry when he realised who I was," Giles says. "I prayed in the ambulance that nobody else would die out of this - I was going to talk to him and forgive him." That's what Chantelle would have wanted. But Fairclough was found dead four days later and Giles never had the chance to speak to him.

Thursday, February 25 was hot, and forecasters were telling us the humid summer still had a long run ahead. Chantelle and Raphael Giles had nothing special planned.

They did everything together. They had been a couple for five years, attended the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement Church and were quiet and popular. Giles, 40, first saw Chantelle as she played piano in church.

They were married in December 2014. They didn't believe in living together before they were married, so Chantelle stayed with her nanna and poppa in Te Huna, Waikato, and Giles was in Manawatu.

Giles says his wife was quiet, a little shy.

"But there was much more depth to Chantelle than what you saw. She was very forgiving and gentle and very, very sincere.

"She was very caring and loving and she loved animals as well as humans. She was very thoughtful to everybody. When she did something for someone she put her heart into it."

Chantelle Giles. Photo / Supplied
Chantelle Giles. Photo / Supplied

Her touch was special, both with people and on the piano, where Giles was first struck by her talent. "There was nobody quite like Chantelle. She could make a song sound like a different song but played better, more inspiring and delightful."

Chantelle was not a typical 22-year-old. She favoured modest clothes and no jewellery or makeup. Those who knew her talk of a caring, loving young woman.

Nine days ago the Giles had nothing special planned, but plenty on their minds.

They had recently moved to the small Taranaki town of Patea from Palmerston North and were staying temporarily with friends John Bayne, 64, and his sister Cherry, 61. They had new lives to build.

Bayne arrived home shortly after finishing his shift at the Hawera McDonald's about 1.30pm. He was the cleaner there and took great pride in keeping the restaurant tidy - the tidiest around, people reckon. He brought home watermelon. He loved the stuff and loved to share, so he, his sister and the Giles passed pieces of fruit around. They laughed. It was so normal.

Michael Fairclough. Photo / Facebook
Michael Fairclough. Photo / Facebook

Michael Fairclough lived with his wife Chrissy in Stratford, about an hour's drive north. His brother Richard remembers a loving dad to Nicole, a stepfather to Jess and Adam and a doting grandfather.

Fairclough was a professional tanker driver with a wealth of experience. He'd been driving for milk giant Fonterra for five or six years but before that had driven gas tankers long-haul across the United States, Britain and in Australia.

"He was such a loving guy and he treated Chrissy like a queen," Richard Fairclough says. "He was a beautiful husband and a fantastic and loving father."

Back in Patea, the foursome had begun an impromptu musical. Bayne was an accomplished musician, a maestro on the saxophone. Chantelle, too, could turn her hand to any instrument, mastering the violin and the piano and possessing a sweet singing voice.

John Bayne. Photo / Jimmy Ellingham
John Bayne. Photo / Jimmy Ellingham

She planned to learn the clarinet and one day wanted a harp.

"John was playing something over the computer," says Giles. "Chantelle was playing the saxophone along with him."

Bayne had a few chores to do. He needed a new rego for his car and wanted to pop into the bank. He could have rushed off but the lunchtime laughter was continuing.

"This was only just a few moments before we left together," says Giles. A second here and a second there makes all the difference.

All four decided to jump in the car together. They headed to a house on Egmont St, owned by the Bayne family, to grab a few items before continuing to the bank.

Cherry Bayne. Photo / Jimmy Ellingham
Cherry Bayne. Photo / Jimmy Ellingham

The shift and the route Fairclough drove that day is unclear but by 4pm he was nearing Patea. His would have been one of a fairly constant rumble of big rigs and Fonterra milk tankers rolling along the 70km/h zone near the edge of town.

As he approached the northwest side of town, the car carrying the Baynes and the Giles was parked next to the Egmont St house.

The four would have spent only two or three minutes there. They never made it inside the property - when they pulled up, they realised they didn't have a key.

"It might have been less. It was a very short space of time. We were all friends and we were having a good time together," said Giles.

At 4.15pm the world changed.

The two women never left the red 1996 Honda Civic sedan but Bayne, the driver, hopped out.

The car was parked on the side of the road, next to the gutter and well inside the through lane.

Giles is particular on this. Rumours that Bayne was backing out, or was parked with a trailer, or that his own vehicle was there are not true, he says.

Giles also got out of the car. He saw the property's gate wasn't latched, so he walked over to attend to it.

Husband Raphael Giles speaks at Funeral for Chantelle Giles. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle
Husband Raphael Giles speaks at Funeral for Chantelle Giles. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle

As he headed to the gate, he and Bayne shared a couple of words as they passed each other. Bayne returned to the driver's seat.

There was an explosion and the sound of metal crunching metal and screeching along the road.

The tanker struck the car with the Baynes and Chantelle inside.

The car was shunted about 80 metres as the tanker veered left and then back into the middle of the road, taking out two power poles and downing live wires. There was a shower of debris and hissing power lines as Giles headed to the roadside.

He saw the tanker arcing towards the centre of the road, with flames shooting into the air in its wake, where the tyres were digging up the seal.

"I got down there as quickly as I possibly could. The back of the car was totally engulfed, right up to the centre."

Giles saw Fairclough still in the tanker cab. The truck was covered in downed wires and power poles, but passers-by helped Fairclough out. Giles held open the cab door as the fire spread.

Funeral for Chantelle Giles at Patea. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle
Funeral for Chantelle Giles at Patea. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle

"We got him out and he lay up against the fence and somebody gave us some water and then things started exploding a bit more and they had to get people out."

Giles had no physical injuries but shock took over. "I realised there was nothing that could be done when the tanker driver was out, the car was totally engulfed at that point. A lady was asking me something and I just collapsed and they were asking me to stay awake. They put me in the ambulance after that."

The days following the crash were hell for driver Fairclough, says brother Richard.

Fairclough, whose funeral was yesterday in New Plymouth, was a sensitive and caring soul.

"It had a huge impact on him, he was in emotional turmoil," Richard says.

Fairclough was discharged from hospital at 2.30am on Friday, February 26 - just 10 hours after the crash.

He was allowed home with scrapes and minor injuries - about the same time police and emergency services finished cleaning up the scene on the main street of the South Taranaki town.

"I was with him at home after it happened and he was in shock," Richard says.

He didn't see his brother again. Michael Fairclough's body was found on Monday. Richard says the family are clinging to moments of happiness. Their thoughts are also with the families of the Baynes and Giles. "We are all human and unfortunately this has had a huge impact. We are thinking of the other families and the loss of life."

Giles says his faith is helping him.

"I believe that I will see Chantelle in heaven. She was a very good person and John was my best friend, so I've lost a best friend and my wife. It's something I'll never get over.

"Life's precious. We need to be really really careful. It can be taken in a second and it's gone, without warning."

Where to get help

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7), www.lifeline.co.nz

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (available 24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633, www.youthline.co.nz

Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7), www.kidsline.org.nz

Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm), www.whatsup.co.nz

Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7), www.depression.org.nz

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (available 24/7), www.samaritans.org.nz

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- Additional reporting, Kirsty Wynn

- NZ Herald

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