Police praise rescuers, including Shortland Street's Pua Magasiva, who saved man trapped in a burning car

By Sarah Harris, Vaimoana Tapaleao

Police have named one of the first people on the scene as Shortland Street actor Pua Magasiva. Photos / Supplied / Jason Dorday
Police have named one of the first people on the scene as Shortland Street actor Pua Magasiva. Photos / Supplied / Jason Dorday

A Shortland Street and Flava radio star has described the moment he and others pulled a man from a crumpled, burning car wreck, after the vehicle smashed into a tree north of Auckland.

"The car was on fire, so we were trying to get him out as quick as we could because - you never know - it could've blown up," Pua Magasiva told the Herald.

Police are praising members of the public, including Magasiva, who plays Vinnie Kruse on the soap, who helped to free the man after the crash about 9.30am on the Hibiscus Coast Highway yesterday. They say they saved the man's life.

A 28-year-old man, the only person in the car, had veered off the road and smashed into a large tree, police said. The car burst into flames.

"The force of the collision was so great it pushed the engine bay back into the driver, pinning him into the seat and impaling his leg with one of the pedals,'' said Rodney police acting Inspector Jason Homan.

Michael Williams was heading south in a campervan when he saw the crash.

He stopped and immediately tried to wake the unconscious driver.

An off-duty police officer happened to arrive at the scene shortly afterwards, as well as other members of the public - including Magasiva.

Homan said the engine of the car caught fire and erupted into flames about the same time.

"The driver had been roused by Mr Williams and was in considerable pain, but was trapped in the car."

The off-duty policeman got into the car via the passenger door and managed to release the driver's seat belt, as the fire blazed.

Police named other good Samaritans as Steve Strongman, Joe Parsons and Craig Watson.

"Over the next few minutes and with a combined effort from everyone involved, the group managed to rip the steering wheel off to free the driver's chest and pull the pedal off that was trapping the driver by the leg," Homan said.

The rescuers tried to dampen the fire using extinguishers and water.

"The men managed to pull the badly injured driver from the wreckage, dragging him some 30 metres away to safety," Homan said.

They then carried out first-aid on him and his badly damaged leg.

Emergency services arrived and the Fire Service doused the rest of the fire.

The driver was taken to hospital in a critical condition.

He has since undergone surgery for his injuries and is now in a stable condition in Auckland Hospital.

"The actions of this brave group of people has no doubt saved this man's life. Had it not been for their efforts, it's likely that this young man would have died," Homan said.

"These were ordinary folk doing everyday things, who have been thrust into a situation where they have had to make a decision to stop and help someone in dire need.

"We hear a lot of bad things in our line of work, but it's things like this that remind us that there are a lot of good people out there," he said.

The cause of the crash is not yet known and is under investigation by the Serious Crash Unit.

Pua Magasiva stressed there were many others there before him who helped the driver. Photo / Jason Dorday
Pua Magasiva stressed there were many others there before him who helped the driver. Photo / Jason Dorday

'It was pretty scary'

Magasiva told the Herald he was returning from camping with his girlfriend when they came across the crash.

"We just saw the car pretty much smashed up against the tree and there were about three guys already at the scene trying to get the guy out.

"I just got out of the car straight away and started helping them."

He described working at "ripping out the steering wheel'' trying to get the driver out to safety.

Magasiva stressed there were many others there before him who helped the driver.

"I'd rather they were praised ... those guys helped really quick."

Magasiva said the car's bonnet was on fire and acknowledged everyone knew there was a real risk of the car blowing up.

He admitted "it was pretty scary".

"Those guys who were there - going up there to risk their lives to save this young kid, man that was awesome.''

He said he thought of the young man's family as well as his own, during the dramatic rescue.

"It was just scary and upsetting because my niece is starting to drive and I was thinking about how his family would've been like - how scared they would've been.

"It's just one of those things ... it was just one of those freak accidents that happened. You've just got to be careful.''

The crash scene. Photo / Supplied
The crash scene. Photo / Supplied

'We do what we can for our brothers'

Steve Strongman, 65, said the driver could have died. He wasn't able to get out of the burning car by himself. Strongman, a retired builder, recalled that one of the driver's legs looked to be broken and he had blood all over his face.

"He was doing his best to get himself out. He knew the potential could have been dire.

"He wanted to live. It was as simple as that."

Strongman was on his way to Orewa for coffee when he saw the accident. He immediately pulled up to help.

With the car bonnet on fire, Strongman and three other men pulled open the door and checked the driver who was in shock and barely coherent. Once they had pulled him from the mangled wreck they dragged him 30m away in case the car exploded.

Despite their valiant efforts Strongman wanted to make sure he would not be called a hero.

"We're Kiwis and we do what we can for our brothers."

Strongman said Magasiva was just "a guy who turned up in his tank top". He didn't know who the star was and said Magasiva didn't let on about his celebrity status.

"It doesn't matter who you are or what you do. You've got a divine job, it doesn't matter who you are.

"You're all on the same planet."

What impressed Strongman most was how the four men worked together to save the driver. He said it was a combined effort and no one person did more than the others.

"There wasn't much spoken but everyone worked instinctively and together."

Strongman wanted to acknowledge the good work of the police. He said their attitudes were reassuring.

"The more we can acknowledge the good in people the better chance we have of peace on earth.

"It's time we got more good vibes out there."

Steering wheel ripped off to save driver

While the car was in flames, the off-duty police officer got into the car from the passenger's door and managed to release the driver's seat belt.

"The driver had been roused ... and was in considerable pain, but was trapped in the car,'' police said.

"Over the next few minutes and with a combined effort from everyone involved, the group managed to rip the steering wheel off to free the driver's chest and pulled the pedal off that was trapping the driver by the leg.''

The group of men pulled the badly-injured driver from the vehicle and dragged him away to safety.

Fellow rescuer Craig Watson, of the Hibiscus Coast, said he was on his way home from camping in Northland when he spotted a campervan parked up and the driver walking towards a tree.

Watson stopped his vehicle also and approached the crash site.

"I could hear a guy screaming and I could see flames coming from under the hood. People from behind me were running up to the car too.

"[The driver] was absolutely screaming in agony, but we kept saying: 'Sorry, mate. The car's on fire - we've got to do this'.''

Watson, who had recently completed a first aid course, said he ran to his car to get a sleeping bag and towel, from his camping trip, to keep the driver warm as they waited for emergency services to arrive.

"He just kept screaming: 'I can't feel my leg, I can't feel my leg!'

Watson said it was only afterwards that he realised just how dangerous the situation was.

However, he did not regret his actions.

We had to take a gamble

"This is a real serious situation - we had to take a gamble. You had to go: 'Do you save his life and put your own risk? Do you leave him in the car and then just risk his life, but totally make sure your own life is okay?

"In the heat of the moment - we just had to get him out.''

The driver was taken to hospital in a critical condition.

Magasiva said the young driver appeared to be in shock and another member of the public stayed with him for some time, as emergency crews started to arrive.

Authorities said the driver had since had surgery and was now stable at Auckland City Hospital.

A police spokeswoman confirmed the names of the men who stopped to help would be put forward to the Police Awards Committee for consideration of a bravery award.

- NZ Herald

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