A passenger in a car took control of the vehicle after her partner had a fatal heart attack, potentially saving the lives of herself and the three children in the back seat.

The driver did not survive, despite valiant efforts of police and others who carried out CPR for an hour.

The Far North drama played out around 10am today on State Highway 1 between Moerewa and Ohaewai in the Far North.

Police have praised the woman's quick-thinking actions, with Senior Sergeant Ian Row saying her efforts were "miraculous" and likely saved lives.

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"The driver suffered a heart attack. His partner has been able to guide the car to a stop on the road.

If she had not done so, he said "there was massive potential for huge damage to other people".

The couple had three children in the back of the car - one of their children and two grandchildren.

The loss of the driver's life came despite the valiant efforts of police, who carried out CPR for an hour and raced from the stopped car to a dairy in Ohaeawai for the defibrillator kept on the shop's wall.

Row said those present thought they had saved the man. "At one stage we stopped doing CPR because there was heart rhythm and breathing. He wasn't conscious but was breathing unassisted. He was trying to stay in the game."

He said the Ohaewai Dairy deserved praise for the defibrillator it kept on the shop wall.

The humble village dairy wasn't a large enterprise to carry the cost of a potentially life-saving machine, he said.

"The more places that have these machines, the better. They can't save anybody if they're not there."

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Locals praised the effort of the police officer who fought to save the man's life.

Ohaewai Dairy owner Layde WIlliams said she became aware there was an incident when someone raced into the shop, took the defibrillator from the wall and raced out again.

The device had been available for about four years, she said. It had been organised through the previous long-term owner of the shop and donated by St John.

Ohaewai-Taiamai Residents' Association chairwoman Tracey Albert, who was at the shop this morning, said the defibrillator had been sought because of the number of accidents near the village.

She said it was the second time it had been needed and in the previous case had saved the patient's life.

Albert said emergency services staff in the area were aware it was there and would call in to borrow it if needed.