A car was mangled beyond all recognition after it was wedged beneath a truck in a horrific central North Island crash which claimed the lives of all three passengers.
A slippery road surface - described by police as a "skating rink" - is believed to have contributed to the fatal crash on State Highway 1 at Atiamuri, just north of Taupo, about 2pm.
That single stretch of road saw three smashes yesterday as New Zealand's 2015 death toll continued to rise. The toll stands at 299, two more than all of last year.
Bay of Plenty acting Road Policing Manager Inspector Kevin Taylor said it appeared the south-bound Toyota car had drifted across the centre line and collided with a truck travelling north.
"It was a scene of devastation," he told the Herald on Sunday. "You've got a car unrecognisable as a motor vehicle wedged firmly underneath the front of a truck with three people trapped inside."
One of the occupants was alive when emergency services got to the scene but died as they were trying to get him out of the wreckage.
"That person died of their injuries while being worked on," Taylor said.
The truck driver was uninjured but "pretty shook up".
"This is a truck driver's worst nightmare. You're driving a large truck and if this happens you're pretty powerless to do anything about it. It takes the steering out and you're basically just taken for the ride once the impact has occurred."
It did not appear speed or alcohol were factors in the crash.
But police were looking closely at road bleed - where a surface becomes so smooth it loses the traction required to prevent hydroplaning. Rain had also fallen in the morning.
"There's a significant amount of tar bleed on the road and it's been like a skating rink."
South Waikato mayor Neil Sinclair was one of the first on the scene. Chillingly, there was still wreckage beside the road from a smash in the morning.
"My sympathies go out to the families involved. For anybody to lose their life like that is just tragic. I don't know how families would handle something like this close to Christmas."
Sinclair said the number of crashes in the area seemed to be on the rise and he wants to work with Taupo mayor David Trewavas and police to get to the bottom of it.
Taylor confirmed there were two other crashes on the same stretch of road yesterday and at least one of them was thought to have been caused by the slippery road surface.
The road would remain closed until any issues were resolved by contractors.
"It was a slight bend and it's slightly downhill going north but there's nothing extraordinary about the road that would cause you to lose control apart from it's quite a slippery surface.
"It's not a good way to start the Christmas season.
"There's another family or families who will have a very unhappy Christmas as a result."