Teen hero rescues teetering truck driver

Last updated 11:45 07/10/2008

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Teenager Peter Hanne is being hailed a hero after risking his own life to save a man whose truck was teetering on the brink of the Waioeka Gorge, south of Opotiki.

The serious crash on Sunday night left the driver of a 23-tonne truck and trailer unit fearing for his life, his vehicle hanging precariously over the edge of the road and poised to slide into the Waioeka river.

But, in a dramatic midnight rescue, the man was saved by 18-year-old Peter Hanne, who crawled into the hanging wreckage to get the driver out safely.

Opotiki police Senior Constable Doug Henry said Mr Hanne's actions were undoubtedly heroic.

"The young fellow who got the truck driver out really deserves our recognition," he said.

"The truck was in a very precarious position, and this young man, Peter Hanne, went and got a wheel brace, crawled into the wreckage and up to the driver's window, smashed the window and got the driver out and up to the bank.

"It was quite a risky move - the truck was creaking and groaning, hanging over the river.

"Had the vehicle finally ended up in the river he would have gone with it and been crushed - the trailer would have landed right on top of him.

"We're always complaining about our young people for those who mess up, but here is one young man who has really laid his life on the line for another. He is a real hero."

But Mr Hanne said he was only doing what needed to be done, when the truck crashed just a few hundred metres from his house.

"We got a knock on the door, and there was a guy who said there's a truck in the river," Mr Hanne told the Opotiki News.

"I just said to my family: 'call the cops' and ran out.

"I didn't even remember to put my shoes on."

When he arrived at the accident he found that the truck had jack-knifed over the edge of the road so that the trailer was almost parallel to the road but leaning at a 45-degree angle over the river, with the cab of the truck dangling underneath it.

"I knew the normal thing to do was call the fire brigade and wait - but I heard it creaking and I knew we needed to get him out pretty quick."

Mr Hanne climbed down the bank and into the space between the leaning trailer unit and the dangling truck, smashed the rear window with a wheel brace and helped the injured driver to climb out the window.

"At one point it was creaking so much he (the driver) was saying: 'It's going to go over - it's going to go'."

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"But I didn't feel fear - there was too much adrenaline pumping."

- NZPA

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