Francis Hall was only five minutes from home when he fell asleep at the wheel, crashed through three fences, and woke to find a wooden fence rail sticking out of his chest.

The 22-year-old Karaka man, who had just done a 10-hour shift at work, was pinned to his seat by the timber and struggling to breathe as he drifted in and out of consciousness.

"I was in shock more than anything. It didn't seem real at the time," he told the Herald as he recounted his ordeal.

"I was trying not to freak out, because freaking out just makes it worse. I was trying to keep my cool. I was just focusing on my breathing, that was my main priority at the time."

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Dennise Biddick (right) with a friend at her birthday party. Photo supplied
Dennise Biddick (right) with a friend at her birthday party. Photo supplied

Within minutes of the January crash local resident Dennise Biddick was by Hall's side doing everything she could to keep him going.

"I just kept talking to him, asking his name. I didn't ever get his name. He was just in and out," she said.

"I said to him at one point, 'This is really, really bad, but you are young and you're a big guy and you have to be really, really brave, and you can do this'.

"To be honest, I actually prayed for him, and then I just said, 'You are going to be really, really brave'. This is what I kept saying to him. He just kept looking at me, and I was just telling him, 'You can do this'."

Hall said he couldn't respond "because I was really trying to breathe".

Biddick, 59, a mother-of-three who runs a secondhand store in Manurewa and lives 400m from the crash site, said the experience was "horrific".

"I had to keep walking away because it was just so awful. I'd talk to him for a bit and then walk away and scream at the guys, 'When are they coming?'" she said.

Hall was flown by the Westpac rescue helicopter to Auckland City Hospital and survived to tell his miraculous story on Code: 1 on TV1 at 8pm tonight.

Still from the television show Code:1, showing the crash that injured Francis Hall.
Still from the television show Code:1, showing the crash that injured Francis Hall.

Jamie Minchin, who was in his Kidd Rd house when the car smashed through his fence, said the railing was a heavy 15cm x 5cm piece of timber typical of local horse studs.

"It was amazing," Minchin said. "I thought he was a goner, to be honest."

Intensive care paramedic Karl Taylor said the piece of timber was about 1.2m long and penetrated about 15cm into the top right part of Hall's chest.

Hall had got up at 4.30am that day to get to his warehouse job at Highbrook by 6am. He worked a 10-hour shift until 4pm, and had been crawling home in heavy traffic on a hot day for an hour when his eyes closed momentarily.

Minchin said the car went through a neighbour's fence first and into a culvert.

"He went through the culvert and got airborne into the first fence, hit the fence protection around some trees and that tore the car to pieces, and then he came through our fence and stopped about 10m from the house," he said.

The house was new and Minchin had only finished putting up the fence about two weeks before.

The horn was jammed on, and at first Minchin was afraid the car would catch fire.

"I ripped the bonnet open, because the horn was going, to turn everything off," he said.

Another neighbour, vet Murray Gilmore, rushed to help.

"We probably got there one minute after his car stopped. He didn't know what had happened," Gilmore said.

"He said, 'I'm having trouble breathing'. I was just talking to him and saying to take little breaths."

Biddick, who had run from her home around the corner, then took over the role of comforting Hall.

"She had almost a motherly way with him and carried on a conversation. She was wonderful," Gilmore said.

Taylor said the paramedics' main worries when they arrived were that the timber was putting pressure on Hall's lung and there was a high chance of aggravated bleeding if they pulled it out.

"The biggest problem was that it had come through his side door and I guess into his chest that way, so it really pinned him to his seat," he said.

"So it was an issue of cutting the roof off, cutting the door off and cutting the piece of timber off.

"The piece of timber was in front of him, around his collar bone. We cut it probably about [30cm] out from his chest. Then we positioned him in a way that we didn't want it to come out, but it turned out that it did."

Hall said he blacked out after he was given pain relief.

"Then I just remember waking up outside of the car on a stretcher, and they were moving me and the piece of wood had fallen out," he said.

"After entering the helicopter I blacked out the whole way to the hospital. The second blackout had me a bit worried, I wasn't sure if I was going to wake up at that point."

He had surgery to close the wound and was in hospital for a month. He is still unable to move his shoulder blade normally, but has been cleared to go back to work in mid-July.

"I would just like to thank everyone that was involved and thank the [helicopter] trust for the service," he said.

"Without the service, cases like mine probably would not be as successful as they are."