The family of a man killed when his truck crashed down a steep ravine endured a harrowing three days knowing he likely lay dead in the wreckage, his sister says.
Yesterday, Jenny King spoke to The Press after police recovered the body of Stuart Barnes, 59, three days after his 50-tonne truck went over a 45-metre bank off State Highway 1 en route to Christchurch.
Her brother, who was heading south from Auckland, had driven the road "thousands of times".
The waiting to recover his body had been "enormous".
"When the truck cab had been lifted and they didn't find him, we were starting to wonder if he got clear of the truck and could have been laying somewhere injured and hypothermic on his own. It was so cold up there."
King said the family's "gut feeling" was the father-of-two died on Wednesday - the day of the crash. She hoped he died before the truck plummeted down the cliff.
Her brother was "loyal to everything and everyone".
"If someone needed help, he would be number one there to help and see things through to the end.
"That's why we say it wasn't until his cargo and beloved truck were cleared up that he showed himself."
Barnes' "close-knit family" was coping, including his nephew, Nigel, who joined him on part of the journey from Picton in his own truck, King said.
Nigel was following his uncle south when Barnes pulled over to let him through because he was worried his heavier load would slow him down, she said.
Barnes had complained of having sore legs in Picton and had not been driving to his usual standard. He was recently diagnosed with type-2 diabetes and had cellulitis in his legs, King said.
The pair spoke briefly when Nigel rang Barnes to see if he was OK, but the phone cut out. Nigel carried on but had a bad feeling when emergency services rushed past him in the opposite direction.
King said her brother was a conscientious driver.
"He never drove without his seatbelt on and if the phone went, he always spoke hands-free. He always followed the rules, checked his log book, his load and his tyres," she said.
Barnes had been involved with trucks since he left Rangiora High School, and had worked for several companies. He had lived in Auckland for at least the past 27 years.
- The Press