The husband of a woman who died when their car plunged into a Nelson creek fought to keep the car on the road as she became unresponsive at the wheel moments before the fatal crash.

Janice Fa'avae, 69, died at the scene of the July crash, which seriously injured her 2-year-old grandson Ali Fa'avae-Mika, and husband Filemoni (Phil) Fa'avae, 67.

Passersby helped pull the family to shore, but Mrs Fa'Avae became trapped in the driver's seat and was unable to be resuscitated.

In a coroner's finding released today, her husband told how she had been driving partially on the wrong side of the road as they made their way to the port to buy fish.


When it happened a second time he "yelled to her but got no response".

He said his wife had her eyes open and hands on the steering wheel but was otherwise unresponsive. He was forced to grab the steering wheel and try to avoid cars on the road. He unsuccessfully tried to brake, but the car mounted the kerb at an intersection with Queen Elizabeth II Drive, hit a tree and slid down a bank into Saltwater Creek at full tide.

Pathologist Dr Mark Houghton concluded Mrs Fa'avae died from drowning, but was likely to have suffered a medical event - such as a seizure or heart attack - prior to the crash which resulted in impaired or loss of consciousness.

Coroner CJ Devonport ruled: "Having lost consciousness, Mrs Fa'avae drowned when the vehicle she was driving became submerged in the full tide, tidal creek."

He praised the efforts of the four men who came to the family's aid, entering the cold, murky water to rescue them.

"Their actions undoubtedly saved the life of the child, and assisted in saving Mr Fa'avae's life," he said.