Barry and Kristin Loggenberg passed through hell when they came across a road crash on the way to a place they consider paradise.
The Auckland couple, heading north to a family bach at Taupo Bay on Saturday, April 30, arrived at the Puketona junction minutes after the head-on collision in which two people and an unborn baby girl died and two others were injured.
The Loggenbergs, who had left Auckland an hour behind schedule, were still more than an hour from their destination when they saw lights ahead, in the wrong place on State Highway 1, just before 8.30pm. A big truck was parked to one side, its driver "selflessly" standing in the middle of the road, waving down oncoming traffic.
The Loggenbergs ran from their vehicle to a horrific scene - a small, crumpled car, "an absolute wreck, it's impossible to believe anyone came out of that alive," Mr Loggenberg said.
The Loggenbergs did not see a child at the scene, but read later in the news that an 8-year old had survived. Another vehicle, a larger, newer car, had little damage to it. Two people sat alongside it on the roadside, "utterly bewildered, shocked".
Other people stopped, one of them a nurse. She and Mr Loggenberg gave CPR and mouth to mouth to pregnant Kylee-Ann Rakich until emergency services arrived.
"The paramedics worked tirelessly on her to bring her back to life but, sadly, it was impossible. Cameron (Ms Rakich's's partner Cameron Dwight, the 21-year-old driver) was inconsolable and I turned my attention to helping him," Mr Loggenberg said.
For possibly 20 minutes Mrs Loggenberg crouched alongside Virginia Keogh in the back seat, holding her hand and talking to her until the paramedics could move her onto a stretcher.
Ms Keogh was responsive and able to tell her helpers she had bad chest pain. With emergency services in action and nothing more the Loggenbergs could do, they said goodbye to the people they had helped and continued north.
But Ms Keogh became the second fatality of that horror crash.
"Never in a million years did I think she would die," a still shattered Mrs Loggenberg said. "I remember thinking when we left, 'she's going to be okay now'."
Her husband agreed. "I really thought she would live. I was choked with emotion when I read in the paper that she had not made it."
The Christian couple believe they were destined to be running late that night, to help ease Kylee-Ann and Virginia's passing from this life.
A former soldier in South Africa who has also worked for New Zealand Corrections Department, Mr Loggenberg's training had kicked in - but he described the event as traumatic as anything he has seen, including "fighting a war in Angola".
The couple stayed longer than their intended few days at Taupo Bay because they were so affected by the tragedy.
Mr Loggenberg still has deep bruising down his arm from scrambling through the compacted car window frame to reach Kylee-Ann.
They have nothing but admiration for the emergency service workers and police, and the courage of other motorists who stopped to help. The crash was caused by an American tourist, driving on the wrong side of the road.
They now believe visitors to New Zealand should undergo a driving competency test, have appropriate medical notes and possibly be banned from driving at night.
The Loggenbergs say they have "cried, talked, relived the events of that night" endlessly.
"I feel very sad for the other driver, too," Mrs Loggenberg said. "It was careless driving, yes, but of course he didn't intend doing wrong or hurting anyone." But their thoughts are mainly with the extended family of the victims.
"Our hearts ache for them. We want them to know we treated their whanau with love and respect, that we did everything we could," Mr Loggenberg said. "Maybe through this medium we can reach out to those people and let them know how sorry we feel for their incomprehensible loss."
- Thomas James Springer (66) from San Francisco, US, pleaded guilty to careless driving causing injury and two charges of careless driving causing death. He will be sentenced in Kaikohe Court on May 20.
In a pre-sentencing appearance in Kaikohe Court, Springer's counsel said his client needed to return to San Francisco for scheduled treatment for a brain tumour.
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