A group of friends feel lucky to be alive after gale-force winds blew a light pole down onto their car, smashing through the windscreen, while driving on a motorway into Wellington.
Dermot Frengley was behind the wheel of a Toyota Harrier and travelling about 80km/h on the Urban Motorway on Sunday when he saw the pole falling in his peripheral vision.
“Next thing there was this big bang, smash, glass went everywhere. I closed my eyes.”
Initial investigations by Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency reveal the light pole had signs of corrosion below ground level, weakening it.
This made it vulnerable to the wild winds that wreaked havoc in the capital on Sunday.
Frengley was heading home from a weekend in Taupō with three friends when the incident happened.
“I remember opening my eyes and looking at everyone else and there was glass all through the car covering everyone.
“It was a massive shock, a massive what the f... moment.”
He managed to stay in control and veered off to the side of the road.
The group managed to escape with just a few small cuts.
“Everyone was pretty amazed that we were actually OK”, Frengley said.
“The post of the street light landed over the windscreen and then bounced off. It absolutely smashed the windscreen we are incredibly lucky that it didn’t go through it.”
It was surreal, he said.
“If we were a minute faster, we might have just completely missed it and not even known about it. But then on the other side of that, if things were slightly different, then it could have been serious injury or death.”
A police spokesperson confirmed officers were called to a one-vehicle accident at 6pm and officers gave Frengley and his friends a lift home.
The car was towed and a decision is yet to be made on whether it will be written off.
Mark Owen, Waka Kotahi’s lower North Island and top of the South regional manager, said weather conditions were extreme on Sunday.
Contractors attended multiple callouts for wind-related damage across the state highway network.
The bad weather forced the closure of the Remutaka Hill Road, where a gust of over 180km/h was recorded.
Owen apologised for the damage and inconvenience to Frengley and his friends, while acknowledging the importance of providing a safe environment for all road users.
“Our records show the pole was last inspected in November 2019, and nothing indicated it posed a potential safety risk.
“The Wellington Transport Alliance is improving the processes and inspection programme to address these potential in-ground pole conditions. It will co-ordinate this work with the rollout of new LED streetlighting across Wellington’s state highway network over the next nine months.”
Georgina Campbell is a Wellington-based reporter who has a particular interest in local government, transport, and seismic issues. She joined the Herald in 2019 after working as a broadcast journalist.