Mother and son die in crash
KATHRYN KING, CHRIS HYDE AND AIMEE GULLIVER
Police have confirmed that the two people killed in a fiery three-car crash on State Highway 1 on Wednesday were related.
Police communications spokeswoman Sara Stavropoulos could not confirm the nature of their relationship, but a source in Levin said they were mother and son.
The a post-mortem had yet to be completed on the bodies, and their names were unlikely to be released until tomorrow.
Those involved in the carting of the 110-tonne catamaran that held up traffic on that fateful morning had been spoken to, but they were not involved in the crash, she said.
The moving company - Central House Movers - did everything right, with pilot vehicles at the front and rear, signage and lights, she said.
A 51-year-old woman and her 20-year-old male passenger, both from Levin, died just after midnight yesterday in an impact that created a huge explosion causing all three vehicles involved to catch fire.
The crash happened behind the convoy of a 24-metre long, 11-metre wide catamaran, which was being transported from Palmerston North to Foxton via Sanson overnight.
A Big Chill frozen foodstuffs truck had slowed down to allow for the wide load ahead of it, causing the car behind it to reduce its speed as well.
But a truck travelling behind the car did not realise what had happened and crashed into the car, forcing it under the back right side of the Big Chill truck.
The fire burned so intensely the road surface melted.
One person in the Nissan vehicle died at the scene and police believed a second person had been in the vehicle, but could not be confirmed yesterday due to the extensive damage to the car.
The car was taken away for further analysis to determine whether there was a second victim.
The deceased have not been identified.
"We are still working through the formal identification process and the crash investigation is ongoing.
"We are only 48 hours into this tragic event and we don't yet have all the answers but are working to establish the events leading up to the crash," Senior Sergeant Nigel Allan said.
Neither truck driver was injured in the crash, but both were taken to hospital for assessment.
The crash closed State Highway 1 between Sanson and Foxton until 3.45pm yesterday, when it reopened with a 50kmh speed restriction following fresh road repairs.
WITNESSES DESCRIBE 'WALL OF FIRE'
Witnesses said the collision was created when one truck failed to slow for the crawling speed of the traffic behind an 11-metre-wide boat built by Profab Central Engineering.
Central House Movers was five hours into the nine-hour shift of the catamaran from Palmerston North to Foxton Beach via Sanson and said yesterday there was nothing the company could have done differently to prevent the smash.
Company truck driver Matt Nairn was transporting the top deck of the boat along SH1 when he heard a "massive bang" behind him.
The 24m-long and 11m-wide catamaran was being carried in two parts - a hull and a top deck - with 10 contractors, including pilot vehicle drivers, involved in making sure the shift went smoothly and safely.
Mr 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," Mr Nairn said.
"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."
Mr Nairn said 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.
"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 was taking part in the boat move, Mr Nairn said.
The boat arrived in Foxton Beach about 4am and was due to have been shifted into the water yesterday afternoon, Mr Nairn said.
"We did everything by the book."
Two teenage boys eagerly waiting at their roadside gate to see the multimillion-dollar catamaran transported past their house witnessed the crash.
Nick Perry, 15, and brother Dion, 16, had seen the mass of lights coming from well down the straight piece of highway from their house, and went out for a better look.
A truck, followed by a car, both travelling at slow speeds behind the boat, approached.
"Then another truck came, going really fast, and wasn't slowing down.
"It just crushed the red car and smashed it into the other [Big Chill] truck, and they both caught fire," Nick said.
Both trucks were loaded with food products - Big Chill with items such as chickens and savoury pies, and the other truck with vegetables, Nick said.
"It sounded like shotguns going off. The flames went up like a mushroom cloud, reaching up to the power lines."
The second truck ploughed on past the two vehicles, wedging the car partly under the back of the first truck, and came to a stop angled across the middle of the road.
The boys' father, Greg Perry, who was watching the boat pass from the veranda, watched the second truck approach.
"He was coming down the road and I'm saying: Slow down, slow down, slow down; and boom, that was it," Mr Perry said.
The car was engulfed in flames and there was "no chance" anyone inside would have survived, he said.
The fire spread quickly across the two trucks and food was shooting out of the produce truck "like fireworks".
He later found a charred piece of cucumber about 100m away from the crash site in his paddock.
He spoke to the driver of the produce truck, sitting in a nearby paddock, who said he had a sore back.
Another man, Neville Pearson, went to investigate when he saw flames.
He also spoke to one of the drivers, believed to be the driver of the produce truck, who told him: "A car and a truck came out of nowhere . . . I had nowhere to go".
All three vehicles had been cleared from the road by 2pm yesterday.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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