"He was one of the good ones."
So said a colleague of a man killed when his car was hit by a train at a level crossing in Otamarakau yesterday morning.
Police held off naming the man yesterday to allow family and friends time to hear the news.
Witnesses to the horror crash spoke about hearing the train's urgent honking as it approached the crossing at a turn off into the Sandpit camping ground at the western end of the Matata straight.
"He was fair blowing his horn," said camper Ruth Montgomery, who had been about to take her dogs out when she heard the train.
"I heard the smack and looked up and saw the train pushing the car at a rate of knots, sparks flying."
She said the car was crushed.
"It was just awful. All I could say was 'my God, my God, my God'."
Camp caretaker Colin Campbell and digger driver Stan Keane were first on the scene when the train came to a stop several hundred metres down the track.
Campbell said he could hear the car's radio up loud.
All Keane could hear was the car's horn blaring.
"I ripped the front off the car, the plastic grill, to get in and disconnect it," Keane said.
They looked for a way to free the driver from the crushed wreckage.
"There was nothing we could do."
Campbell saw the collision after he was alerted by the horn. He watched, horrified, as the car drove slowly across the tracks in the path of the train.
"He tried to warn him."
"I thought 'Jesus Christ, he's going to hit the bloody car'.
"It was a surreal thing, just to see it happen. It just happened so quick."
Later in the day, he said he was thinking of the man's family, and the terrible news they would be receiving.
Peter Luke, who had just stopped at the campground for the night, said he would never forget what he saw yesterday.
He heard the train's whistle as it approached the crossing.
"Why he [the car driver] didn't see him I don't know."
The train stayed next to the beachside campsite for much of the day.
Firefighters extricated the body from the wreckage and a hearse took him from the scene about midday.
An hour or so later the car was removed.
Investigators and a track crew remained at the scene.
Kawerau Sergeant Al Fenwick said the crash was under investigation.
He said there was no suggestion the car had either stopped on the tracks or that it had been accelerating over it to beat the train.
Initial signs and witness accounts pointed to the driver having not noticed the oncoming train, he said.
A KiwiRail spokesman said the locomotive engineer driving the train was distressed but not injured.
He was being offered support.