A mother was holding her baby in her arms when the car they were in crossed the centre-line and slammed into a bank, hurling the infant against the vehicle's interior.
Emergency services were called to the single vehicle crash at Kopaki on State Highway 4 about 8.40am yesterday, Waikato district road policing manager Inspector Freda Grace, said.
The Waikato serious crash unit is investigating to find the cause, but Grace said it involved a westbound small Honda hatchback that failed to negotiate a 65kmh advisory left-hand bend.
Four adults, a child and the baby, aged under one, were inside.
While the adults had seatbelts and the child an approved restraint, the baby is believed to have been sitting in the mother's lap.
"Unrestrained, the baby has been thrown into the rear interior of the car and suffered critical injuries."
Piopio Volunteer Fire Brigade station officer Tama Williams said the mother was stuck in the back seat, due to a back injury, when they arrived.
"We had to cut the roof off the car to get the stretcher and backboard in there to get her out," Williams said.
"Before we got there someone had taken a baby to hospital in another car."
The crew attended about one crash on the "tight" corner every year, he said.
A helicopter was called to airlift the baby to Auckland's Starship children's hospital, but this was delayed due to poor weather conditions. An ambulance took a 3-year-old sibling and the childrens' mother to Waikato Hospital with minor to moderate injuries. The three other adults were treated at the scene.
Grace said crash investigators were working on establishing what, if any, role two bald tyres on the front of the car played in the driver losing control on the downhill stretch of road.
"It may be that the speed was too fast for the conditions and the condition of the tyres contributed to what happened," she said.
"From a police perspective, we want vehicle owners to ensure their vehicles are roadworthy at all times, not just at the one point in time when their warrant or certificate of fitness is issued.
"At the same time we want them and their passengers to be fit for the road too, meaning they are alert and properly restrained."
It was up to drivers to adapt to the conditions as winter set in, and not only by reducing speed.
"It also means not driving while distracted - last year 10 people died in 10 crashes where driver inattention or distraction were considered contributing factors so the message is, turn off your cellphone, adjust your radio and make sure you're in the zone - before you head off."
- Waikato Times