The mum of one of two hero police officers who helped save the lives of two people when a truck plunged into the Manawatu Gorge on Friday says she's "very proud" of her son.

A man and woman, believed to be aged in their 40s, were last night still in a "satisfactory and comfortable" condition in Palmerston North Hospital, after miraculously surviving the 50m drop into the Manawatu River on Friday morning.

Two police officers have been described as heroes, after they spent an hour submerged in the river keeping the head of the driver above water.

Senior Constable Ross Andrew and Constable Simon Ashton, both of Palmerston North, were first on the scene and immediately went to the aid of the two people in the truck.


Last night, Ashton's mother Joan Ashton, said he was doing fine after the dramatic rescue operation.

She was "very" proud, she said, and praised the actions of all the emergency service personnel involved.

"Well done to everybody," she said. "It wasn't good conditions at all."

Requests to speak to Ashton and Andrew were un-returned last night.

A police spokeswoman yesterday said the two officers were "humble" and did not want any media attention for their actions, which they considered as "just doing their jobs".

A raft of emergency services battled major winds and driving rain in cold winter conditions on Friday, in a race against time to rescue the driver and his passenger from the river.

Geoff Bates, St John Ambulance Manawatu territory manager, said the pair were "very grateful" to all involved in their rescue.

A truck that plunged off a steep cliff into the Manawatu Gorge. Photo / Will Foley
A truck that plunged off a steep cliff into the Manawatu Gorge. Photo / Will Foley

Bates was the paramedic winched down to rescue the pair, and said they were "extremely lucky" to survive. The situation was too urgent to speak to the man or woman, he said, but he visited them in hospital afterwards.

"We didn't have a lot of time for that really, the conditions were not good, we needed to get them up and out."

He added: "I did catch up with them at the hospital later and I sort of suggested they should buy a Lotto ticket.

"I know they were grateful, and not just to us but to everybody, because it was a huge team effort."

Everything had gone "surprisingly smoothly considering the conditions", he said.

A total of five people were taken to hospital by ambulance, including police and fire staff who suffered hypothermia.

When ambulance arrived at the scene on Friday morning, the two police officers were already with the man and woman.

"He was pulled out of the wreck by the first police officer who went down there, got him up out of the water and on top of what was left of the cab," Bates said. "We're talking about an area of about 2m sq is what they were lying on, what we got winched down to."

The woman had been hauled onto the river bank by the officers.

"We winched the guy off the top of the truck first, then his passenger, then one of the policemen who was hypothermic.

"I think the job just went really, really well. I think all the services just gelled, and it went extremely well."

He praised the helicopter pilot and crew for a "fantastic job" in really trying conditions.

"I've been winching for a few years now, but that's probably the worst conditions I've winched in I think."

Philips Trust Helicopter winch operator Kevin Dalzell described the moment the survivors were brought into the chopper.

"The first guy didn't say much at all, he was pretty cold and we just got him out of there. The second lift, the lady, said thank you and so did the policeman as he went out the door," he said.

"You don't really get chance for conversation with people you're rescuing, it's normally limited to hand or eye signals, because we're too busy communicating with the pilot. There's rotors spinning and you don't have that real chance to interact."

However, they were "glad to be out of there".

The Manawatu Gorge will be closed from 9am on Monday, to recover the truck from the river. Two alternative routes will be available for motorists while the recovery operation takes place, via the Saddle Rd or the Pahiatua Track.

- additional reporting Simon Plumb