Pair describe 'horrific' moment tree fell on their car at a popular Auckland park

A woman and her son-in-law have told of the "horrific" moment a day out with family turned into a near-death experience, when a large tree fell on to their car in an Auckland park on Sunday.

Dallas Hargreaves, 72, and her son-in-law Tim Yandall were standing by his car in the carpark at Cornwall Park when they heard a crack about 2.15pm.

"I thought it sounded like just a small branch from somewhere else," said Yandall.

"Then we looked up and all I saw was this massive tree falling towards us. It was probably halfway down by then.

"All I can remember is [thinking] 'something's going to hit me'."

Yandall braced himself by the door on the driver's side of the vehicle, while his mother-in-law dived into the passenger's seat and crouched to take the impact.

"If I hadn't got into that car, it would've been history for me. I would've been hammered," Hargreaves said.

"We knew it was going to hit us. We were right in the line of it.

"I heard the noise of it crashing. It was just incredible and the car was shaking."

Yandall said he was knocked to the ground by falling branches of the 30m cottonwood tree.

"I heard smashes, crash, bang and everything. The rustling of the leaves too, it was like a massive downpour of something like hail.

"I got up and I couldn't hear [Hargreaves] on the other side. There was no movement."

He saw a trunk beside his mangled car and instantly assumed the worst.

"I didn't see her under the trunk but then I saw her legs still jammed at the bottom of the car. She wasn't talking so I assumed she got crushed."

Then his mother-in-law began crying and screaming as she was wedged in by the tree and the car door was crushing her legs.

Yandall yelled out to people in the park to call an ambulance.

About 10 men rushed over and helped Yandall lift the branch off the car to free his mother-in-law.

Off-duty police officer Sergeant Adrian Heffernan, who was one of the men, helped carry Hargreaves to a grass verge.

He said he could not fathom how the pair survived.

They were taken to hospital in shock but relatively and miraculously unscathed. Yandall suffered scratches and bruises to his head and Hargreaves had bruising on her legs.

"It's just incredible," she said.

The tree, which landed on four cars, smashed the windscreen of Yandall's vehicle and mangled the bonnet, writing it off.

Cars crushed under the large tree which fell in Auckland's Cornwall Park on Sunday. Photo / Supplied
Cars crushed under the large tree which fell in Auckland's Cornwall Park on Sunday. Photo / Supplied

Hargreaves was having coffee with Yandall, her son and his partner and two children at Cornwall Park Bistro before the tree fell.

Moments before, her son's family had hopped in their car on the other side of the carpark ready to drop the two children to their grandmother who was going to take them home.

"So you can imagine what they must have felt. To experience that would have been horrific," said Hargreaves.

"They could've all been with us."

Hargreaves recalls hearing her daughter-in-law screaming "that's my mother-in-law in there", as the tree uprooted and car alarms started ringing out through the park.

Hargreaves has experienced a series of tragedies this year, beginning with the loss of her husband in June, followed by the deaths of her sister and brother-in-law.

Her car was also wiped out in earlier in the year when she was hit by a vehicle carrying a trailer.

"And then this. So it's been a bit horrific really," said Hargreaves.

Hargreaves and her son-in-law returned to look at the scene on Monday.

Yandall said he was thankful the top tier of the tree hit them and not the solid base of the trunk.

"Everybody that saw it were totally amazed that we had survived," said Yandall.

"Call it what you want but at the end of the day, it's nothing short of a miracle."

Arborists have been at the park trying to establish what caused the tree to fall. The tree was 130 years old. It is one of 8000 mature trees in the park inspected annually.

- NZ Herald

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