One of the utes involved in a crash where three people died had been reported stolen.
The trio - a married couple in their 60s and a 20-year-old man - were killed and the young man's father is in hospital following the two-vehicle crash at the Kopu Bridge in Coromandel.
The bridge, near Thames, was closed in both directions overnight following the collision between two utes about 8.30pm.
Police this morning confirmed the ute driven by the 20-year-old was reported stolen.
The married couple, from the Thames area, who were in one ute, and a young man who was driving the other ute, died at the scene.
The man's 54-year-old father was helicoptered to Middlemore Hospital in a critical condition.
A hospital spokeswoman said this morning he was stable.
Karl Smith said he had pulled to the side of the road on the west side of the bridge to make a quick, 14-second phone call.
"This was less than one minute before the crash," he wrote on Facebook. "I then pulled out near the front of the halted traffic when I found out this happened.
"If I didn't pull over, I might have ended up as part of the collision. Really scary to think of...
"My thoughts and prayers go to the friends and relatives of the three killed and the one injured. Truly devastating."
Volunteer fire fighters will be offered support and counselling after saving the father at the "particularly nasty" crash scene last night.
The crash is being investigated by the Serious Crash Unit but initial indications suggest the car driven by the 20-year-old crossed the centre line and collided with the other car, police said.
Thames' chief fire officer Greg Rendall said the "high speed" crash was one of the worst he'd seen in 32 years working in fire and emergency.
"It's obviously the loss of life, and that loss of life affects so many [more] people's lives," he said.
Made up of volunteers from Ngatea and Thames, two crews had to cut the roof off the cab of the ute to pull out the crash's sole survivor.
Even after cutting the roof off the ute the man was so badly trapped they had to put the ute on its side to free him, tipping it back onto its wheels afterward.
It was a quick and technical rescue, Rendall said.
"We're quite lucky, we've got some people with some good expertise."
After loading the man into the rescue helicopter, crews left the scene while police did a thorough investigation, returning a couple of hours later to remove the bodies.
"It was pretty horrific really. It's hard for everyone," Rendall said.
Fire and Emergency's Eastern Waikato area commander Aaron Waterreus did not attend the crash, but was in communication with crews throughout the night.
"It was a particularly nasty scene," Waterreus said.
"Our crews worked pretty hard to get the surviving member of that second ute out alive."
There was a peer support network and, if needed, psychologists could be called in to help crew members process what they'd seen, Waterreus said.
"It's always particularly hard on our crews when they're exposed to this sort of trauma, but we have a good support network."
Thames-Coromandel mayor Sandra Goudie lives on the hill above Kopu and saw the aftermath of the incident unfold.
She said when she saw the helicopter land for a crash so close to the hospital she knew the crash must have been serious.
Calling it a "tragedy all round", Goudie said she was now waiting to find out whether she knew anyone involved.
"It's just awful," she said.
"I'm just waiting to hear who the people are, because if they're from the area I'm dreading to know who that might be.
"It's just awful and it's so not necessary."
Police said there were two people in each vehicle.
Waikato Senior Sergeant Simon Cherry said the married couple were driving a Toyota ute and the father and son were in a Mazda ute.
The road had been reopened about 3am.