A man taking part in a surfcasting contest was last night still in intensive care at Middlemore Hospital after suffering serious spinal injuries in a crash on Ninety Mile Beach.

It is understood the 66-year-old, the vehicle's sole occupant, was heading back to his campsite after the day's prizegiving in the Snapper Bonanza when his four-wheel-drive rolled several times. The accident occurred 10km south of The Bluff about 6.30pm on Thursday.

Other fishermen helped him out of the wreckage and applied first aid until an ambulance officer arrived. Complicating the rescue was the near high tide, leaving little firm sand to drive on.

Fire chief Warren Bunn, of the Pukenui Rural Fire Party, said it was fortunate the tide was dropping. Even so the ambulance got stuck about half a kilometre short of the crash scene so a fire appliance had to pick up the medic.


The fire truck could not risk stopping on the soft sand so kept driving in circles until the ambulance officer could jump on board. The ambulance was later towed out of the sand.

It looked as if the vehicle had barrel-rolled down the beach, he said.

The Northland Rescue Helicopter landed on the beach about 7.30pm and flew the man to Middlemore Hospital, which specialises in spinal injuries. A spokeswoman said last night he was in a serious but stable condition in the hospital's intensive care unit.

More than 800 fishers from as far away as Italy are taking part in the Snapper Bonanza, believed to be one of the world's biggest surfcasting contests. Whoever lands the biggest snapper by 4.30pm today will take home at least $30,000. Prizegiving takes place at Waipapakauri Ramp, about 10km north of Kaitaia.

Accidents during the contest are rare but are reasonably common on Ninety Mile Beach. In a 2012 inquest into a fatal crash on the beach, Northland coroner Brandt Shortland said it was "inherently dangerous" with ever-changing conditions.