At least one dead in fiery crash

SH1 reopens after fatal crash

CHRIS HYDE, KATHRYN KING AND AIMEE GULLIVER
Last updated 16:57 08/01/2014

Fatal truck smash a 'wall of flame'

SlideshowCrash scene, SH1


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SH1 fatal crash near Sanson on SH1
GRANT MATTHEW/Fairfax NZ
HUGE LOAD: The crash happened behind the convoy of this 24-metre long, 11-metre wide catamaran, which was being transported from Palmerston North to Foxton via Sanson overnight.

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The driver of one of two trucks carrying a multimillion-dollar boat from Palmerston North to Foxton Beach tried to put out a "wall of fire" after a fatal crash took place behind him.

Central House Movers truck driver Matt Nairn was transporting the top deck of an 11 metre-wide Profab Central Engineering-built catamaran along State Highway 1 when he heard a "massive bang" about 200 metres behind him.

At least one person died in the collision between two trucks and a car following the go-slow convoy on SH1 south of Sanson in Manawatu shortly after midnight last night. The convoy travelled at an average speed of about 10kmh.

The 24m long and 11m wide catamaran was being carried in two parts - a hull and a top deck - from Palmerston North to Foxton via Sanson overnight.

Nairn said he looked behind him to see a fire starting. He stopped the truck, grabbed a fire extinguisher, and ran to the scene.
"Once the blaze had started it was useless," Nairn said.

"There was nothing we could do. We had four to six extinguishers between us but it was a waste of time. "I didn't even realise there was a car in there because the flames were so big.

"It was side to side on the road and up as high as the power lines, we couldn't get to the other side. It was a big wall of fire.

"Our team were just focused on getting the truck drivers out and then once that had been done, the first explosion happened." 

Nairn said he believed the uninjured truck drivers had made it out of the truck on their own. Concerns then turned to the boat.

The 110-tonne boat - when fully assembled and full of fuel - sleeps 18 people and is to be launched this month in the mouth of the Manawatu River before being sailed to Darwin to be predominantly used by an oil and gas company as a gear transporter.

"We started getting concerned about the wires in the heat.

"The fact we had $7 million worth of boat close to the fire was definitely in the back of the mind, and we wanted to unblock the road for emergency services, so we made the decision to carry on.

"There was diesel all over the road and as we got back to the trucks we started hearing more explosions. It could have been tyres popping, I don't know, but there were about 10 explosions in total."

None of the trucks in the crash were taking part in the boat move, Nairn said.

The boat arrived in Foxton Beach about 4am, nine hours after leaving Palmerston North.

The Central House Movers team would shift the boat into the water this afternoon, Nairn said.

"It's a horrible thing to have happened. We had enough to think about in general while we were shifting it and for this to happen is not nice for the guys."

EXPLOSION WAS 'HUGE MUSHROOM CLOUD'

Nick Perry, 15, and his brother, Dion, 16, were standing at their gate on SH1 watching the huge catamaran creep along the road towards Foxton, taking up both lanes.

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A Big Chill frozen foodstuffs truck was directly behind the truck carrying part of the huge boat, while a red car was following the Big Chill truck.

Almost directly outside the Perrys' home, a third truck carrying fresh produce came up behind the convoy at a faster speed and wasn't able to brake hard enough in time, Nick said.

It ploughed into the back of the red car, pushing it under the back right side of the Big Chill truck.

At the time of impact, there was a huge explosion and all three vehicles burst into flame.

"The flames went up like a mushroom cloud, reaching up to the power lines," Nick said.

The car was completely engulfed in flames.

The fresh produce truck continued around the smash and came to a stop across the road in front of the other vehicles.
The teens said both trucks were carrying full loads.

Nick and Dion ran back into the house and called 111, while their father went and spoke with one of the drivers who was found sitting in a paddock.

A crane was at the scene, lifting parts of the wreckages this morning.

The impact of the crash resulted in pieces of charred vegetables being sprayed across the scene.

TRUCK COMPANY VIEWS IN-CAB FOOTAGE

Big Chill chief executive Michael Roberts said his company's truck had cameras throughout it, and his company had already seen the footage.

"We have a pretty clear idea of how it occurred and who is at fault."

Even though police were yet to finish investigations, the footage would help comfort his driver, he said.

"It's good for the driver to know early on that he's behaved OK.

"He's a good experienced operator."

Roberts said the driver was already travelling back to his base in Auckland, and was likely to have some time off.

'I HAD NOWHERE TO GO' - TRUCK DRIVER

Neville Pearson, who lives in nearby Milner Rd, said he heard a "fairly big" bang some time after midnight, followed by more bangs, and at first thought someone was out shooting rabbits.

He looked out his window and saw fire, at first thinking one of the houses flanking the crash site was ablaze.

When he arrived at the scene about 15 minutes later, the damaged car was engulfed in flames in the middle of the road.

The cab of one truck was badly damaged. Both came to a stop facing south.

At that time, the fire had not reached the cabs of the trucks, and both drivers were out.

He asked one driver what happened and was told "a car and a truck came out of nowhere ... I had nowhere to go".

The second driver, in shock, had to be called over by firefighters. He was wandering in a nearby paddock.

Flames from one truck had been reaching up to the power lines, Pearson said.

A second man, who pulled up to the cordons briefly, said he whad been behind the vehicles and one of the trucks was carrying a wide load.

ROAD RE-OPENS

State Highway 1 between Sanson and Foxton is now open.

The road reopened at 3.45, but has a speed restriction of 50kmh following fresh road repairs.

Police said the trucks involved in the crash, a B-train and a semi-trailer, and the Nissan vehicle were travelling between Sanson and Foxton.

One person in the Nissan vehicle died at the scene and police believed a second person had been in the vehicle, but this had yet to be confirmed.

The gender of the deceased was not yet known, police said.

Both truck drivers were uninjured but were taken to hospital for assessment.

"They are both understandably very shaken up from the crash and we hope to formally speak to them in the next few days," area response manager Senior Sergeant Nigel Allan said.

Preliminary indications were that all three vehicles were travelling southbound at the time of the crash.

The serious crash unit was conducting a scene examination and the vehicles would today be removed from the road for further analysis.

A police communications spokeswoman said all three vehicles had been removed from the road by 2pm.

The Nissan, in which at least one person had died in, has been taken away for analysis, but confirmation of the presence of a second body would not be made until later today.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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