A family dog that ran away after a horror crash that killed a young man has been reunited with its owners.
The border-collie named Ace had been tracked in wild South Island bush by a former Search and Rescue operative for several days before he was found last night.
His owner, Hailey Palmer couldn’t believe the news when she received the phone call shortly before 10pm. It was a relief after an 11-day rollercoaster of emotions.
On the Friday of King’s Birthday Weekend, Palmer had been travelling with her partner Shaydan and 7-month-old baby, Isla through Lewis Pass, near Hanmer Springs, shortly before 5pm. Palmer was sitting in the passenger seat looking down when she heard her partner exclaim ”what the f*** is he doing?”
Looking up, a car was headed right towards them for a head-on collision. Their ute flipped and ended up upside down on a roadside railing.
Disoriented, Isla screaming and blood dripping from her nose, Palmer recalls hearing people running towards the wreck.
“They were screaming ‘there’s a baby in the back, get her out’, she was in her carseat and hard to reach,” Palmer told the Herald.
“I was so disoriented but I passed her through the back window, then they helped me out.”
Her partner, Shaydan was also okay - she heard him call out to nearby witnesses, “someone stop that dog”.
Ace had been tied to the back of the ute, but his collar had a catch that would release under pressure. The pet had bolted after his collar had come free and disappeared.
Palmer wasn’t focused on Ace at that moment, concern had turned to the sole occupant of the other car.
Shaydan went to check on him but was pulled back.
“Don’t bother going over there, you don’t want to see it,” he was told by witnesses. The occupant of the car, a young man in his 20s had been killed on impact.
“Obviously it was really sad for his family, heartbreaking stuff,” said Palmer.
Sent to Christchurch Hospital for checks, Palmer and her family suffered no injuries of concern.
The following day, attention turned to Ace - who Palmer believed couldn’t have survived the crash.
“I thought, a 100km head-on collision, he’s probably run off and curled up to pass on,” she said.
“[I] figured he’d been thrown around and had broken ribs or internal bleeding.”
The couple trekked back on Sunday evening to look for their pet, leaving food and a jacket with their scent as bait. Posts were put up on social media, asking locals to keep an eye out for the 3-year-old dog.
The interest captured the attention of Don Schwass, a Search and Rescue operative who had spent the past two decades running a local search operation for dogs that go missing in the bush.
He came across dashcam footage that captured Ace dashing across the road in front of a car a day after the crash.
“It’s such a massive area, there were signs 10km north of the crash site - so Ace definitely covered some ground,” said Palmer.
After three days of searching last week, and two days of searching after the weekend, Schwass refused to give up.
He kept locals updated on his social media page, at one stage photos of dog droppings were posted.
The couple also searched on Tuesday and then the phone call: “He said ‘I got him’,” says Palmer. “I was like ‘you got him?’ and he said ‘yeah, he’s in my truck’,” said Palmer.
“I was just like ‘rubbish’. I didn’t even know what to think, when I drove up there I was still in absolute shock.”
Cautiously driving to the meet-up point, Palmer got out of her car and the cameras started rolling to capture her reuniting with her lost pup.
“[Ace] was crying with happiness and giving me lots of cuddles, being back in my arms again,” she said.
“He came back from the dead almost, it was amazing he survived that sort of crash with just bruising by the sounds of it.”
He was taken to a vet this morning and will be monitored once the adrenaline wears off.
“It’s amazing how much people have responded to help find Ace,” said Palmer.
For Schwass, the case was a reminder of why he does what he does.
“It’s the joy of tracking and the reunion with the family. It’s just like a member of the family - I think the couple had more of a shock from the reunion than from the accident.”