A young Northland family have luck and a quick-thinking passer-by to thank for saving their lives after a bizarre crash, described by a policeman as the luckiest escape he has ever seen.

The accident occurred just after 8am yesterday when a 26-year-old Kerikeri man missed a sharp corner as he was driving up Waipapa West Rd, Kapiro, and shot off a 10-metre-high bank, just missing a crash barrier on one side and a large totara tree on the other. With him in the Mazda Lantis was a woman, a 4-year-old child and an 8-month-old baby.

The car grazed the tree and snapped off a branch as it flew over a swimming hole and landed nose-first in a paddock 20m away, flipping and coming to rest upside-down.

Constable Mark Roberts of Kerikeri police said a woman walking along State Highway 10 heard a bang and ran across a series of paddocks to reach the crash scene. She saw smoke was coming from the car with the family inside.


She pulled them from the wreck and moments later flames appeared.

When the Kerikeri fire brigade arrived, the car was burning fiercely.

Mr Roberts said the driver had a medical condition and may have blacked out. The infant was uninjured, while the child was taken to Bay of Islands Hospital for a check-up. The woman suffered a broken wrist and head injuries, while the driver was merely dazed.

Police inquiries were continuing.

"They were extremely lucky. If they had gone through the gap 200mm the other way they would have collected a thick branch and gone straight down into the creek," Mr Roberts said.

The officer said it was the luckiest escape he had seen in his 12-year policing career.

He praised the Kapiro woman, who had kept her cool and pulled the family from the smouldering wreckage.

"She did very well. That's most people's worst nightmare."

At the very least she would be getting a letter of commendation from the police, he said. After her rescue the woman carried on with her walk, saying she was heading home for a glass of water and a chance to calm down.