'Golden boy' fights for life

TRAPPED: The mangled wreckage of the van after it rolled of SH5 between Napier and Taupo near Te Haroto.
TRAPPED: The mangled wreckage of the van after it rolled of SH5 between Napier and Taupo near Te Haroto.

Baby Manmeet Singh came to New Zealand with his parents and sisters to be the golden boy at the centre of a traditional Punjabi festival.

Instead, the family were gathered in a small room at Hawke's Bay Hospital yesterday while a trauma team worked furiously to save 5-month-old Manmeet and five others seriously injured when their van veered off the Napier-Taupo Road.

The van was being driven by Manmeet's uncle Sundeep, 33, who had driven from Havelock North to Auckland on Wednesday afternoon to collect brother Jagtar and his family off a flight from Melbourne.

Jagtar, who was raised in Hawke's Bay, was bringing his family home to celebrate the Lohri, held every January 13 to commemorate the birth of a boy, or the marriage of a newlywed couple.

"This was the the first time we were to see the baby," relative Baldav Raj said at the hospital yesterday.

"The grandparents had not seen Manmeet before. More than 50 people were coming from all over the country."

Early yesterday morning, Sundeep Singh drove the van of eight relatives back towards Hawke's Bay. About 6km north of Te Haroto the van crossed the centre line and plunged 10 metres down a steep bank.

Somehow, a badly injured Sundeep managed to get out of the van and carried Manmeet with him up to the road.

"He said he made it up to the road [with his nephew] and was able to stop a car," Mr Raj said. "Then he fainted, and someone in the car called police.

"We have seen him in the ward. He was badly hurt, and he was drowsy, but he was able to talk to us a little.

"We are all very shaken by this. We are thinking it was just so lucky that Sundeep was able to get up to the road. If he didn't, then maybe it could have been much longer before they were found."

Police, fire and ambulance crews, and three rescue helicopters, were all involved in the complicated rescue, which closed the road for several hours.

The six people trapped in the wreckage of the van had to be winched up by helicopter. All eight victims were taken to Hawke's Bay Hospital, which activated a "multiple trauma response" requiring extra specialists and nurses to be called in.

On Friday morning, the hospital said of their conditions: 

The infant Manmeet Singh is in a serious but stable condition.

His father Jactar (or Jagtar), aged in his 30s, remains in a critical condition in intensive care.

Jactar's wife, Sukhwinder, also in her 30s, is in a serious but stable condition.

The couple's daughters Jaspreet, 9, is stable, and Amureet, 8, is serious but stable.

Sundeep Singh is stable.

Sundeep's friends, Nihal Singh, 23, and Satvir Singh, 23, who were also in the van, are also both stable.

St John ambulance paramedic Brendon Hutchinson said it was "incredibly lucky anyone survived, given the damage to the vehicle and how far it went down the bank". "It was the sort of scene we arrive at and expect at least one fatality, probably more. They're very lucky."

Rescue pilot Jeremy Bruce told Radio New Zealand it appeared the driver had been driving through the night and had fallen asleep at the wheel. There were several cans of Red Bull lying around the accident site.

However, police later said that the cause of the crash was still under investigation but it appeared that loss of control was a major faction and "that the driver was in fact awake at the time".


The Dominion Post