Missing truck driver Stuart James Barnes is unlikely to have survived or fled the scene after plunging 45 metres into a ravine more than two days ago.
Barnes, 59, was based in Papakura in Auckland and driving a Freight Lines truck when it crashed on State Highway 1 in Hundalee, south of Kaikoura.
Police said work was continuing to clear the crash scene. They hoped to find Barnes’ body under the remaining freight and debris.
Health authorities have now issued a health warning for lower parts of the Conway River after a corrosive de-greasing chemical spilled into a tributary of the river from the wreckage.
Freight Lines declined to comment.
Sergeant Graeme Crosson said police would not give up until they found the driver but believed the major damage to the vehicle from the crash and poor weather conditions would have made survival "very difficult".
"This is quite a unique crash scene, it’s not often you are looking this long for an occupant in a crash," Crosson said.
He added there was no evidence to suggest the driver fled the scene.
The southbound truck fell down a steep bank about 5.30am Wednesday, and since then the extensively damaged vehicle and seven-metre-long trailer have been lifted out of the ravine by a crane.
But searchers have not yet located the driver of the truck. A source close to the recovery operation told The Press yesterday an infrared search had not detected body heat in the area and it was unlikely the driver would be alive.
"A ground search team is on site and it is expected that conditions will allow the search to continue late into the evening," a police spokesman said.
Meanwhile, Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Alistair Humphrey said people should avoid contact with the Conway River (downstream of SH1), including those fishing and food gathering or using the river for showering, drinking or food preparation purposes, after chemicals from the truck’s freight leaked into the stream.
"The truck was carrying a corrosive de-greasing chemical (ChemTech CT14), which spilled into a tributary of the Conway River, affecting the river downstream of SH1," he said.
"Environment Canterbury are testing the waterway to determine the extent of contamination. People should avoid the river until the results of those tests and the risks have been evaluated."
Dr Humphrey said the health warning will remain in place until further notice.
The Ministry for Primary Industries advises all stock and domestic animals should be kept clear from the affected water until further notice.
The highway is reduced to one lane in the area and traffic on SH1 should expect some delays.
- The Press