For the first time in nearly 50 years, a New Zealander has been awarded the prestigious United Kingdom Royal Humane Society's Stanhope Medal.

In 2015, Murray Michie, then 58, rescued Susan Evans and her three daughters from their burning vehicle after a road crash in Manawatu.

As others helped keep the flames at bay, Michie cut three of them from their seatbelts with a pocket knife.

Last year he was awarded the Royal Humane Society of New Zealand's Silver Medal in recognition of his bravery.

Advertisement

The New Zealand society also nominated him for the Stanhope Medal, and he came out ahead of nominations from societies in Australia, Canada and the UK.

New Zealand society president Austin Forbes says the last New Zealander to be awarded the medal was Mt Cook ranger Robert Ryan in 1968, for belaying down a crevasse to help rescue a climber whose climbing companion was killed.

Despite the lethal combination of smoke, flames and leaking petrol, Michie had helped rescue Evans and her daughters and moments later their vehicle exploded.

"It's just incredible. People see what's happened and feel there's no alternative but to go in there. It's very much to their credit," Forbes said.

The society is hoping Governor-General Patsy Reddy will agree to present the medal to Michie but a date is yet to be confirmed.