Only hours after the Atiamuri crash that killed seven people, a couple come across a crash in the dark of night. Battling with emergency services' advice to leave the victims but watching as smoke rises from the car, one man made a decision that saved lives with only seconds to spare.

A Rotorua man saved three people from a burning car just seconds before it went up in flames with a "boom".

Acting on instinct, Fa'atoaga "Fatu" Tuifaasisina Pelurale Aupeipeigamalie jumped out of his car and rushed to help without pausing to think of the risks involved.

And his rapid reaction saved the trio.


"But I'm not a hero. I was just doing a job," Fatu said.

It was a Sunday night and Fatu and his wife, Mai, were travelling back from Te Puke after picking their daughter up from work.

"It's foggy and it's black. We pass Paengaroa on that straight. I am just concentrating on the road because you can't see anything," he recalled.

But about 10pm and 30km from home, Fatu came across two vehicles that had collided on the straight between Paengaroa and Okere Falls on State Highway 33.

A 2-year-old boy, a 26-year-old woman and a 23-year-old man from Te Puke and a 23-year-old man from Rotorua were injured in the crash.

"I heard the baby crying and I stop and run over ... because that breaks my heart."

The sight of the baby stretching his arms out, screaming, was what Fatu saw as he wrenched open the door.

He rushed the baby to his daughter to look after, then headed back to look for other victims.

And it was then that he realised how bad the situation was about to get.

"I went to the other side, where the passenger was, and the smoke is black. My worry is that they are going to suffocate inside.

"I yell 'Are you okay' and he has nothing. I thought maybe he was dead."

Fatu managed to drag the man out of the car, causing him to stir, and walked him over to wife Mai and his daughter.

"And then I came to the driver's side, I can't open the door, it is jammed.

"I just hold the frame and say 'Please God help me, help me' and then I just grabbed the door like a piece of paper."

The black smoke that had been engulfing the car suddenly was replaced by flames and, while the woman was screaming about her leg, Fatu was only thinking of her life.

"I said 'I don't f*****g care about your legs. I want to grab you and take you alive out of the car.'

"I put my hand under her breast, hold her, pull her up and then I managed to take her out.

"She kept on yelling but I wanted her to get out alive."

Now out of the car, the pair watched while flames grew next to him. He knew he needed help to pull the woman to safety.

Along came another vehicle heading to Rotorua and Fatu waved down the driver for assistance.

"He holds her legs and we drag her away and then 'boom'. Everything goes up."

Where Fatu was standing at the time and where three people had earlier been in the car, ash covered the ground. Beside where the car had sat, if you looked closely enough you could have see Fatu's footprints.

"My shoes were burning, but I don't care. I just wanted to save people's lives."

Since the ordeal, the screams of the baby and the woman shrieking in pain have kept keep Fatu awake at night.

Now, more than ever, he hopes drivers at the wheel will pay attention only to the road.

"Whether you are fast or slow we all get to the same place."

People insist Fatu is a hero, but he says no: "I was just doing a job."