One dead, three injured after car plunges into Wairarapa river video

Caleb Harris /

Acting sergeant Tony Matheson of Wairarapa police describes the rescue and salvage operation after a car plunged into the swollen Waipoua River on the Masterton bypass road this morning, killing one and injuring three.

Police have named the 35-year-old man killed when a car left the road and plunged into a Wairarapa river.

Benjamin Young from Lower Hutt died in the accident, while three others were winched to safety from the rooftop of their submerged car.

Police were alerted to the crash off Paierau Rd, about 7 kilometres north of Masterton, at 4am on Saturday.

The wreckage of a car that crashed into the Waipoua River, near Masterton, is retrieved from the water.

The wreckage of a car that crashed into the Waipoua River, near Masterton, is retrieved from the water.

Acting sergeant Tony Matheson, of Masterton Police, said a late-model Holden Commodore went around a corner and through a wire fence before hitting a concrete abutment and crashing into the flooded Waipoua River.

READ MORE: One dead in car river plunge

The car appeared to have partially disintegrated on impact with the bridge, sending parts flying across to the far side of the river.

A members of the Police National Dive Squad works to retrieve the wreckage of a car.

A members of the Police National Dive Squad works to retrieve the wreckage of a car.

The body of Young was found next to the bridge, a short distance from where the car was almost completely submerged.

He was dead before emergency service arrived a few minutes later, Matheson said.

"It's just a tragic event for the family and his friends."

The wreckage was still visible in the Waipoua River come daylight on Saturday.

The wreckage was still visible in the Waipoua River come daylight on Saturday.

Police believe speed was a potential factor in the crash. They have also taken blood samples from the two women and one man who survived to determine if alcohol was involved.

Ad Feedback

The three survivors - aged 16, 23 and 25, and from the Wellington region - were winched by the Westpac rescue helicopter from the roof of the vehicle to the riverbank.

Two survivors were seriously injured and one had moderate injuries. They were taken to Wairarapa Hospital in Masterton where they were treated for fractures and hypothermia.

A small piece of the submerged car gives an indication of how little space there was for the three people who were ...

A small piece of the submerged car gives an indication of how little space there was for the three people who were trapped on top.

A hospital spokeswoman said two of the patients were "distressed and in a lot of pain" but their conditions were stable on Sunday. A third was transferred to Wellington Hospital and was in a stable condition on Sunday. 

The Life Flight Trust, which operates the Westpac rescue helicopter, got called to the scene after a local farmer heard the crash and discovered the wreckage about 4am.

The police serious crash unit examine the scene where the car left the road and plunged into the river.

The police serious crash unit examine the scene where the car left the road and plunged into the river.

Life Flight crewman Julian Burn described it as the most challenging winch rescue he had ever performed.

The three survivors were huddled on the car roof, just a few inches above water, leaving a space no bigger than a welcome mat upon which the helicopter crew could land a paramedic.

The area was pitch black and there were strong winds knocking the helicopter around.

Making matters worse was the glass and jagged metal on the car roof, as well as nearby powerlines, which made lowering a paramedic down on to the car roof extra tricky.

Police and the fire service did what they could to illuminate the scene from the riverbank, but it was so dark that the helicopter crew had to operate with night vision goggles, Burn said.

"The situation was really dangerous ... we knew we had to be extremely careful because even the slightest mistake and we might have knocked one of those people into the water."

The three people trapped on the car roof were healthy enough to be placed into a harness and moved to the riverbank, Burn said. They managed to get all three of them to safety in about 10 minutes.

Any slower and they might have been in trouble, because the helicopter crew spotted a lightning storm in the distance, which was closing in as they were performing the winch, Burn said.

"Had it all happened about 20 minutes later, we might not have been able to do it ... they were extremely lucky."

Burn said the speed of the river's current and the lack of visibility made it far too dangerous to try and swim across.

"It was white water and it was moving pretty quickly. Swimming would have been a bad move. They made the right call by staying where they were."

The three rescued people were cold and in shock when paramedics reached them, he said.

There was a "sense of relief" that they had been rescued but they were also quite emotional about the fact one of them did not make it.

Matheson said it appeared those involved in the crash were all friends who had been completing a round trip between the Wellington-Hutt Valley area and Palmerston North.

It is thought they had been at a car enthusiast event somewhere in the Manawatu, he said.


Paierau Rd resident Christine Gleeson doesn't know why she was still awake at 4am on Saturday, but it is a good thing she was.

Had she been asleep, there's a chance she may not have heard the car that crashed into the Waipoua River not far from her house, and the resulting screams in the night.

"I was awake and I could hear the car coming down the road. Then I just heard this loud bang and then silence," she said.

Gleeson and her husband Barry went outside to take a look and heard the panicked voices of people scrambling out of the car and screaming "help," she said.

By the time the Glessons made it to the river's edge, the three survivors had climbed atop their submerged car but were trapped in the middle of the swiftly flowing river, which was in flood.

Christine Gleeson then ran back inside to phone police.

She and her husband had lived on Paierau Rd for 23 years and this was the third time they had seen a car crash near the bridge that crosses the Waipoua River.

Because the road curved around a corner quite close to the bridge, it made the stretch of road "a bit dangerous" for any vehicles that were going fast, she said.


 - Stuff

Ad Feedback
special offers

Mad Butcher: Winners are grinners

I thought the boys were exceptional, really stepping up without him, and in particular young Nathaniel Roache, who came ...

OPINION: Just about had to prop my eyes open with toothpicks to write this I was so tired.

Home detention for crash teen

Danyon Haile Hati appealed his sentence for dangerous driving causing death in the High Court at Whangarei.

Unlicensed teen driver accelerated through a stop sign and killed a truck driver, but court rules jail sentence too harsh.

Chef to MPI: 'Burger off'

Duke of Marlborough restaurant manager Kelsey Benefield tucks into a Governor's Burger - before it's cut from the menu.

New red tape will kill signature hamburger at NZ's oldest licensed restaurant, says chef.

Mannering backs rookie Roache

The Warriors have confidence in young backup hooker Nathaniel Roache, veteran Simon Mannering says.

The Warriors are confident an 18-game rookie could replace their injured test hooker.


Lions touch down in Welly video

Loose forward Sean O'Brien walks through a "guard of honour" set up by the fans.

The British and Irish Lions rugby tour has finally rolled into the capital.

Yacht crash 'like Survivor in real life'

The crew of shipwrecked yacht Jungle with the inhabitants of the little island that cared for the Kiwis at Tuavana-Ira.

Shipwrecked Kiwis near Fiji were taken in by remote islanders. In exchange, they gave them a bike.

$30m roaring into town video

An estimated $30 million is expected to be pumped into the Wellington regional economy during the week-long stay of The ...

About $30m is expected to be pumped into Wellington during the Lions games.

Demand for bag levy

Nearly half of New Zealand mayors have now signed an open letter to  Associate Environment Minister Scott Simpson, ...

Mayors from 28 towns and regions have called for a plastic bag charge.


Firewood in hot demand

City Firewood owner John Harris says a combination of earlier cold weather and higher than average rainfall is making it ...

Suppliers struggle to keep up with demand as they battle to dry wood in the wet, cold weather.

Small plane crashes

A member of the Otago Aero Club was killed in the crash.

"Extremely sad" news for Otago Aero Club as small plane found crashed on rural farmland.

The mystery of the moving stone

Brendon Webber, contracts manager with Protranz Earthmoving. Protranz contractors found the dedication stone and have ...

Contractors working on the Metro Sports Facility find a displaced piece of an historic church.

Sneak peak at Court Theatre plans

Early concept sketches for the new Court Theatre in central Christchurch.

"No market" for commercial spaces needed to help pay for a proposed new Court Theatre, the company's chief executive says.


Little support for Easter trading

Hamilton City Council asked people what they thought about shops opening on Easter Sunday. Most oppose it.

It's not what most Hamiltonians want, according to submissions to council.

Man dies in river

Emergency services were at the river mouth where the body was found.

Fisherman found dead at the entrance to the Kaituna River in the western Bay of Plenty.

Girl injured in crash

One resident's Toyota Vitz ended up taking out a fence after being struck by another vehicle.

A 13-year-old girl was taken to Waikato Hospital after a crash in Chartwell.

Missing man found

Louis de Quaasteniet was last seen walking from his home at Chapel Hill, Rototuna at 9am on Sunday. If you see him call ...

Louis de Quaasteniet has been found after earlier going missing.


Top shops revealed

Calvin and Fiona Nicholson have been in their photography store since 1982, but the time has come to sell up.

These are the best spots to get some good old retail therapy in Taranaki.

Skate park to be lit up

Vinny Horwell, 2, from Lepperton flies through a puddle on his bike at the East End Skate Park on Sunday.

A team of four are working towards getting lights for the East End Skate Park.

Maori representation to be debated

Councillor Murray Chong.

The NPDC will debate the new governance partnership with iwi on Monday night.

Schools merger plan vetoed

Phil Nixon, Craig Simpson, Hans Konlechner and Bart Crawshaw  are pleased to have a decision so quickly on the future of ...

After more than 18 months of debate, staff at a small town intermediate can relax.


Reclaiming tagged park

Replanting, murals and new fencing have brightened Tui Park in Highbury. Mucking in are Ngati Hineaute's Chris Whaiapu, ...

A playground that was an urban eyesore is rejuvenated with a whole lot of love.

Winston woos regions

NZ First leader Winston Peters used his speech at the party's campaign launch in Palmerston North to promise cash for ...

Tourist dollars diverted to regions, students have loans wiped if NZ First has its way.

Grans raising grandchildren

Carer Pat TeAu, picking up grandsons Jon, left, and Terence, from school.

Three grans raising grandchildren were treated to a special pamper pack as a thanks.

Teens need shoes

Palmerston North Boys' High pupils Finn Davidson, 16, and Trent Hooper, 15, are looking for tap shoe donations to stage ...

Teenage boys are lining up to learn tap dancing and have put out an appeal for footwear.


Conversations in virtual reality


Scott Cardwell of ImmerseMe with Nelson College for Girls year 10 ...

What if you could practice foreign languages in school while talking to real people, in real situations?

Fire guts Ngawhatu

Five fire crews battled a blaze at the abandoned Ngawhatu Psychiatric Hospital.

Former psychiatric hospital goes up in flames for second time in seven months.

Who killed Kevin O'Loughlin?

Kevin O'Loughlin, 30, who was stabbed to death on the corner of a Nelson carpark on May 2, 1993. His murder has not been ...

Who was the man behind one of Nelson's only unsolved murders?

No winging it with public speaking

Cellphones - every speaker's worst enemy.

Public speaking continues to be a bit of a challenge for middle-aged man Stu Hunt


Rescued, but no boat

The crew of shipwrecked yacht Jungle with the inhabitants of the little island that cared for the Kiwis at Tuavana-Ira.

The Blenheim man whose yacht beached on a reef near Fiji is bound for Suva, but his boat has been left to the sea.

Blenheim's bug motel

Faalelei Sioveata, 7, Angel Quinton, 9, and PhilipJunior Fodow, 7, have created a bug-friendly motel.

There's a new motel in town, and it's full of creepy crawlies.

Patrol vessel blessed for success

MPI chief compliance officer Anthony Little, left, with Archdeacon Andy Joseph while he blesses the new MPI fisheries ...

Longer, faster and harder to evade - The new fisheries patrol vessel in the top of the south is blessed and ready for action.

Timaru too strong for MBC

Marlborough Boys' College midfielder Nigel Satherley takes on the Timaru Boys' High School defence in Blenheim on Saturday.

Marlborough Boys' College's push towards the top of the rugby championship table was derailed by a tough opponent.

South Canterbury

Foodbank applauds bag appeal

Timaru Salvation Army Lieutenants Emma and Jacob Howan are hopeful that the physical bag in Monday's paper will prompt ...

Timaru foodbank operator hopes appeal will help restock at crucial time of the year.

Black spot targeted

John and Linda Cant, grandparents of Ruby Marris, 5, who was killed as a result of head-on collision near Moeraki in ...

New safety system installed on high-risk stretch of road near Moeraki.

One dead in plane crash 

A member of the Otago Aero Club was killed in the crash.

One person has died after a small plane came down near Middlemarch in Otago.

Second candidate confirmed

Timaru businessman Nigel Bowen will stand as a candidate in the council by-election in September.

Timaru businessman Nigel Bowen puts his hat in the ring for council by-election.


Strip and dip at Winter Fest video

A bright orange birdman leaps from the wharf on Queenstown's lakefront.

Scene of unseasonal jollity unfolds on Queenstown's lakefront as near-nude men and women fall over one another and rafts lose crew.

Pet dog shot dead

Max's owner found his body on Friday evening near the front gate of their property.

"Playful, friendly" labrador found dead at home with a bullet in his chest.

He Tauaa make it five

Jaavan Fa'amoe-Ioane was part of He Tauaa's 2017 grand final victory over Cowboys.

He Tauaa has won their fifth Southland club rugby league title in a row.

3 generations, 1 rugby team video

Grandfather Mackie Thompson, his son Colin, and grandson Cullen.

Grandad plays in the loose forwards, his son's at halfback and grandson is in the outside backs.

Ad Feedback