Boy's poise after fatal crash praised

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 15:45 17/06/2013

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A coroner has praised a young boy’s brave efforts to try to save his father’s life after a West Coast car crash, running 6km in socks and darkness to seek help.

Hunter Bennett, now 11, was trapped after the Toyota Hilux his father, Craig Thomas Bennett, 40, was driving ran off the road and rolled about 6km north of Haast about 5.15am on April 18 last year.

Christchurch coroner Richard McElrea said in his written decision into Bennett’s death that Hunter used a pocketknife to cut his seatbelt to escape the wreckage before spending some time unsuccessfully searching for his father.

Despite suffering severe bruising, including a black eye, and other injuries, he had the presence of mind to use the knife to exit through an electric fence before running 6km back to Haast on the dark rainy morning.

He reached a family friend’s place to get help two and a half hours after his ordeal began.

‘‘The actions of Hunter are very commendable,’’ McElrea said in the decision released today.

The coroner found Bennett had become distracted while driving, possibly reaching for a tape cassette or his seatbelt, and lost control of the vehicle along a straight stretch of highway.

Bennett was not wearing a seatbelt and was thrown from the car when it rolled.

Haast local Eamonnd Johnston, the family friend alerted by Hunter about the crash, drove to the scene, and found Bennett 12m from the car.

Two other women were already there and had alerted emergency services.

Efforts to revive Bennett failed and he died at the scene.

His former colleagues told Fairfax Media at the time he was originally from Hamilton, but lived in Haast for about six years and also spent a year in Whataroa, also on the West Coast.

He shifted with his wife, Emma White, and their only child, Hunter, to Australia about eight or nine months earlier for a mining job in Queensland.

The pair had returned to Haast at Easter for a ‘‘father and son’’ hunting and fishing holiday while White had stayed in Australia.

It was believed they were on route to Christchurch to pick up Bennett’s wife when they crashed.

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