A Northland grandmother who pulled a young family, including an 8-month-old baby, from a crashed car moments before it burst into flames says she was just "in the right place at the right time".

Mary Elliott, a caregiver at Kerikeri Retirement Village, was walking along State Highway 10 at Kapiro about 8am on Wednesday when she heard a thump and saw smoke in a nearby paddock.

She knocked on the nearest door and asked the farmer to call police, then raced to the paddock. She found the smoke was coming from a car which had rolled on its roof with four people, including two young children, trapped inside.

The Mazda Lantis had missed a corner on Waipapa West Rd, shot off a 10-metre high bank, grazed a large totara tree, flown over a deep swimming hole, landed nose-first 20m away and rolled on to its side. Mrs Elliott feared the worst until she heard the children crying and knew they were okay.


"The mother was on her tummy, trying to push the baby out the back window. She was on the phone at the same time, calling for help. She said, 'Grab my baby, get him out'," Mrs Elliott said.

The woman passed the baby out, then the 3-year-old boy, and was able to crawl out of the wreckage herself.

But the driver was trapped in the car. He appeared to be having a fit and was tangled in his seatbelt.

"So I made him go back, untangled his seatbelt, and we got him out together," Mrs Elliott said.

Within moments flames appeared. Fearing the car would explode, she made the family move up the hill. Police arrived minutes later, followed by firefighters and St John Ambulance.

The baby suffered scratches while the 3-year-old had a possible broken arm. The woman had a broken wrist and head injuries, while the driver appeared unhurt. Both children were in proper restraints.

"I was amazed they were able to walk out of there. I told the mother, 'Someone up there is looking after you', and she agreed," Mrs Elliott said.

Police and her friends had told Mrs Elliott that she was a hero, but she disagreed.

"I was in the right place at the right time. It was just the natural thing to do. You see those little children and your instincts kick in. You just want to get them out," she said.

With five grandchildren, plus twins on the way, she was relieved the children were not badly hurt.

Mrs Elliott goes for a walk along Kerikeri Bypass most mornings but on Wednesday asked her daughter to drop her off at Kapiro Rd so she could walk along SH10.

The officer in charge at the accident scene, Constable Mark Roberts, said he had never seen a luckier escape from serious injury.

Had the car been 20cm to the right, it would have hit the totara and dropped straight down into the stream, he said.