The woman who died when an SUV plunged into Tauranga Harbour on Wednesday was a 65-year-old local, police say.
Yesterday, the submerged vehicle was recovered, with flowers placed near where the accident happened shortly after 5pm on Chapel St, sparking a desperate rescue attempt.
Praise has been heaped on the estimated 20 people, including firefighters and police, who swam out in the hope of saving the woman trapped in the fast-sinking vehicle.
A male occupant of the vehicle was able to get out by himself. Fire and Emergency NZ acting shift manager Josh Pennefather said a trapped person was removed from the vehicle with rescue equipment.
It is understood the car that went into the water was one of three involved in a collision at the lights at the turnoff into the Bay Central shopping precinct.
The fully submerged SUV was recovered from the harbour near the Bay Central shopping centre off Chapel St yesterday morning.
One lane of Chapel St was partially closed while the police dive squad and a crane retrieved the SUV.
The police had taped off part of the shoreline to prevent people getting too close to the vehicle once it was brought ashore.
A few bystanders, including shoppers from Bay Central, watched in silence or talked quietly as the car was lifted from the water.
The mood was sombre and respectful, but a few people used their cellphones to capture the moment.
Briscoes Group general manager retail operations and property Nick Turner said three staff from Rebel Sport's store provided flippers and face masks during the dramatic rescue attempt.
One of the store's managers also attended. Turner said the crash had been "terribly upsetting" for the staff members and they have been given the rest of the week off.
Police confirmed on Wednesday evening that one person died at the scene.
A St John spokeswoman said three others were injured and treated.
There has been a number of crashes into the Tauranga Harbour over the past few years.
In 2013, Greg Woledge, 24, died after a vehicle crashed into his van on Maungatapu Bridge and sent it into the harbour. His passenger, Ashley Donkersley, escaped the van and was rescued by then-police officer Deane O'Connor, who jumped off the bridge after them.
In April 2019, police divers found the body of a driver who crashed into the harbour off Maungatapu Bridge on State Highway 29A. The bridge connects the Tauranga suburbs of Maungatapu and Matapihi.
There has been a huge outpouring of messages of support and condolences on the Bay of Plenty Times' Facebook page for the victim's family involved in Wednesday's crash.
And there has been a flood of messages for the rescuers, too.
"They say heroes don't always wear capes, well these guys that jumped out of cars, stripped off, threw phones and wallets and dove in to save those complete strangers, all I can say is wow," Nadine Ryan said.
"My faith in humanity is restored ... the people that directed traffic, brought ... goggles from their stores to help the swimmers ... If you happen to know any of them buy them a beer and shake their hand."
"Condolences to the whanau of the deceased, what a tragedy," Wairua Johnson said. "Big ups to the those who tried to help, would have been such a frightening moment."
"Thinking of everyone involved in a very far-reaching tragedy and thank you to all you amazing humans who helped," Rachel Hamilton said.
On Wednesday, witness Errol Hodgson said he was driving home from work when he saw two vehicles crash at the Chapel St lights then an SUV come "out of nowhere".
"The SUV went up over the island and straight over the edge [into the water].
"It went down real fast.
"I stopped here [about 20m away] and ran over there. The rear window was disappearing.
"The windows must have been down because it went down so fast."
Police investigation underway
A police spokeswoman said police were working with CCTV operators and members of the public to establish the events leading up to the crash.
"Early indications are that three vehicles were involved in the collision. It's understood the vehicle in the water had two occupants, a second vehicle had another two occupants, and a third vehicle had one occupant.
"Police Serious Crash Analysts are still in the early stages of the investigation. The exact cause is yet to be determined," the spokeswoman said.
Police acknowledged those members of the public who helped at the scene and would like to hear from anyone who witnessed the crash. Information can be provided to police via 105, quoting file number 211208/1665.
Alternatively, information can be provided anonymously to Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111.