Body found after truck crashes off Desert Road

MIKE WATSON TAUPO
Last updated 05:00 09/11/2012
Crash scene
MAURICE COSTELLO/Fairfax NZ

'BOMB SITE': The crash scene at Waihohonu Stream, on State Highway 1.

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The driver of a truck and trailer unit that crashed on the Desert Road was found dead last night, after an accident that closed the highway for most of the day.

The southbound truck crashed down a riverbank about 4.30am yesterday, 25 kilometres south of Turangi.

Police divers spent most of the afternoon searching beneath and around the wreckage of the 20-tonne unit for the unnamed driver.

The body of the 50-year-old from Porirua was found last night as a crane was finally able to lift the partially submerged cab from the water. The body was found beneath the cab.

Swift swirling currents and narrow channels beneath the Waihohonu Stream bridge made earlier searches for the missing driver difficult.

Divers, with and without tanks, and tied by rope to colleagues on the bank, battled the currents and slowly felt their way around and under the wreckage and large boulders.

The stream, fed by melting spring snow, was running as swift as a river.

The truck and trailer unit lay in the water, half submerged below the bridge, after it tumbled off the road.

It appeared the driver had swerved on a moderate left-hand bend, and run off the road, hitting a barrier on the bridge before the weight of the trailer tipped the vehicle into the water 20 metres below.

The cab, lying jammed between rocks under the bridge, was destroyed and had its roof ripped off. A pair of overalls, a single sock and a black fleece top lay on the floor.

Contents from the trailer, which included hazardous pool chlorine and insecticide, were strewn down the bank, and up to 40 metres downstream.

A chrome nameplate bearing the truck's nickname, Goddess of Fire, lay bent and twisted beside the wreckage.

Three large drums were stranded on rocks but appeared to be intact and were not leaking any hazardous material.

The truck is understood to have been contracted to Mainfreight. A company representative at the scene did not want to comment.

Taupo area commander Inspector Steve Bullock described the scene as looking "like a bomb had gone off".

State Highway 1 was closed all day. Traffic was diverted at Turangi and Waiouru, through Ohakune and National Park.

Police were confident the road would be reopened at some point last night.

Heavy haulage operators began trying to lift the truck and trailer up from the water late in the afternoon.

The combined weights of the wreckage and crane made it impossible for the crane to park on the bridge, and any lifting would have to be done using a long-armed crane.

The accident is the second serious truck crash in the region in the past fortnight, after a large truck and trailer unit carrying dairy products crashed down a 10-metre bank at Bulli Pt, beside Lake Taupo, two weeks ago.

The driver walked away unharmed, but it took three days to salvage the wreckage.

Contact Mike Watson
Taupo reporter
Email: mike.watson@dompost.co.nz

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- The Dominion Post

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