An elderly woman and her son-in-law were millimetres away from death when a large tree fell onto cars in an Auckland park yesterday, an off-duty police officer who rushed to their aid says.
The lucky pair were pinned in a mangle of tree branches and cars, after the 30m cottonwood tree fell over in the carpark of Auckland's Cornwall Park just below the restaurant and information centre at about 2.15pm.
"Seriously, I don't know how her and her son-in-law survived," Sergeant Adrian Heffernan said.
"They must have been millimetres away from being hit by that giant branch that took eight of us to move. Amazing."
The off-duty officer was among a group of around eight people who rushed to the aid of the man and woman, dragged the huge tree off the cars and freed them.
The woman was "stuck half in the car, half out, wedged in by the tree", he said, while the man was "trapped between the cars with the branch".
Heffernan helped free the woman, and carried her over to a grass verge. An off-duty nurse and a doctor were also in the park, and came over to help him.
They covered the woman in a jacket, and stayed with her until emergency services arrived.
"She was worried about her legs or missing bits of her body and I just kept reassuring her, saying she was ok," Heffernan said.
She did not appear to be badly injured, he said, but was covered in broken glass from the shattered car windows.
She was concerned about her son-in-law, who escaped relatively unscathed, with a few minor cuts and bruises.
Heffernan had been at the park with his wife and 10-year-old daughter, walking their dogs.
They had sat and eaten ice cream near the tree, in an area with "heaps of people", just minutes before it fell, he said.
They were walking down the hill when they heard it come crashing down.
"We'd just been up having ice cream and sitting near the tree and we'd walked off a couple of minutes before it happened and just heard this almighty noise," he said.
He added: "That noise of the tree coming down was the loudest thing I ever heard. But then the car alarms, that's when I realised someone will be in trouble."
On reflection it was a little scary to think they were so close to where it happened, he said, but he did not hesitate to help out.
"Running back in and helping was no big deal to me, but just the fact that could have been our family or ... I was expecting someone to be dead because that was a huge tree that came down."
Now he wants to meet up with the woman he helped rescue.
"I'd love to get in touch with the lady to make sure she's ok," he said.
A spokesperson for Auckland District Health Board said the woman had been treated and discharged from hospital yesterday.
Last night, Cornwall Park management and the park trust said they were "very concerned" by the falling tree, which had been assessed as having a one in a million chance of falling.
An arborist report on what happened has been commissioned, the trust said.