Train rescuer tells of frantic struggle

Last updated 15:55 25/02/2013
Fairfax NZ

Two people were struck by a freight train in Auckland yesterday morning after the wheelchair got stuck on the railway track.

'IT WAS SO CLOSE': Matthieu Mereau went to the aid of a woman whose wheelchair became trapped in railway tracks as a freight train approached.
'IT WAS SO CLOSE': Matthieu Mereau went to the aid of a woman whose wheelchair became trapped in railway tracks as a freight train approached.

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As the bells sounded and the freight train bore down, Matthieu Mereau tried to focus only on the struggling woman in the wheelchair in front of him.

"I just wanted to move her out of the way," he said. "There was no time to do anything else."

Mereau, an architecture graduate, was on his way to work in Kingsland this morning when he saw the young woman get her electric chair trapped in the tracks at the Morningside station around 9am.

"She was trying to move herself out of the way. I went over and said, 'I'll help you, I'll get you out," he said.

"Then the barrier arms started to come down and the bells began to ring and then the situation became horrible."

Panicking, and unable to move the chair, the 24-year-old called to a passing female jogger for help.

"I asked her if she could give me a hand and we tried to move the wheelchair but it was really hard...then the train was coming and it was almost on us."

Mereau said the pair struggled with the chair as long as they could, becoming increasingly frantic as the noise of the engine due closer.

"I was just trying to focus, to forget about the train, just to move her out of the way. It was kind of happening in a way in which I could see everything slowly."

In the end, all the rescuers could do was tip the chair on its side and leap out of the way.

"[The woman] fell clear but the wheel chair was still on the tracks," Mereau said.  "That got caught by the train. The lady was still close to the wheelchair so she got dragged along..."

The wheelchair-bound woman suffered serious injuries and was taken to Auckland Hospital. While Mereau was unhurt, the jogger who helped him injured her leg.

Mereau said the whole incident was over within a minute, and he was still trying to process it this afternoon.

"If I had been further away I wouldn't have been able to do anything. I was just literally right there. I couldn't do anything else," he said.

"It was so close. I'm shaken."

The jogger was treated by ambulance and Mereau was checked for injuries and shock, but was mainly concerned about the injured woman in hospital.

"I'm not the one that got hurt. I just want to know that she made it through."

Police are now investigating the accident.

A Kiwi Rail spokeswoman said the company has launched an investigation into the accident.

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