A man alleged to have fled a fatal crash in which he is thought to have been the driver has been interviewed by police.

Senior Sergeant Dave Sutherland, of Eastern Police Command Centre, Napier, said last night police had spoken to a man believed to have been the driver of a vehicle in a crash which was reported by a truck driver who came across it on State Highway 2 near Te Hauke, between Hastings and Waipawa, about 3.20am yesterday.

Killed in the crash was 61-year-old New Plymouth man Hemi James Rapaea, who police described as "of no fixed abode" and had been picked up while hitchhiking from Palmerston North to Napier.

Extensive searches were carried out in the area, including the use of a drone fitted with cameras. Police said later the driver appeared to have fled the scene.


Crash investigator Senior Constable Cory Ubels said the drone was used to make sure the driver had not crawled into the bushes and died.

The drone belonged to Tim Whittaker, Hawkes Bay's only certified drone pilot who filmed the scene and its dense toetoe and maize bush on either side of the road.

"I filmed the scene and covered the ground in about quarter of an hour," he said.

Mr Ubels said it was possible the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel, because a scene examination found no sign of evasive action taken by the driver. The grey Ford Fairmont appeared to have rolled into a roadside ditch, and it seemed no other vehicle was involved.

A St John Ambulance spokeswoman said when officers arrived the driver was missing. She said they were unable to revive the passenger.

The road was closed for several hours but detours were available.

The New Zealand Transport Agency reported it was the seventh fatality on Hawkes Bay roads this year. The toll last year was 17, and the year before 20.

This year's tally comprises four in the Hastings District, and one each in Napier, Wairoa and Central Hawkes Bay.

Less than a month ago Amberley Muller, 19, died on the same stretch of State Highway 2. The Waipawa woman was travelling south along SH2 near Hastings when her vehicle crossed into the path of an oncoming truck.

A 20-year-old Hastings woman involved in a motorcycle collision on SH50 last Saturday was late yesterday still in a critical condition in Wellington Hospital's Intensive Care Unit.