Pair in watery rescue drama

06:12, Jun 29 2013
Elaine Carberry
LUCKY: Elaine Carberry, 23, had only been in New Zealand for 13 days when she escaped a serious crash that left her trapped in an upside-down car in a flooded stream.

Elaine Carberry spent 45 minutes trapped in an upside-down car in frigid water, telling herself over and over that she wasn't going to die.

The lives of the 23-year-old farm worker and her employer, Kelly Hodder, both of Ikawai, were saved by the heroic efforts of rescuers, some in uniform and some who just happened by.

The pair went for a drive on June 21. Carberry, who was driving, had been in New Zealand just 13 days on a working holiday visa from Ireland.

They reached Elephant Hill Stream bridge, in State Highway 82, about 5.30pm.

"I'd planned to turn around after the bridge," Carberry said. "But when I reached it, it was very slippery."

The car slid on a patch of snow, crashed through the bridge's wooden railing and plunged into the swollen stream. It flipped, landed on its roof and sank.


The women unfastened their seatbelts after the impact. Carberry found herself in the passenger seat, Hodder in the back.

In the upside-down car, their heads were jammed into spaces designed for feet, and each had only a small pocket of air to keep her alive.

"Kelly grabbed my hand and told me to keep moving, to keep my body warm," Carberry said.

"It was excruciatingly cold."

Fifteen minutes went by while the women fought to breathe and to hold panic at bay.

Then they heard a voice outside.

A man - whose identity is still unknown, but who officials believe was a firefighter with the Lake Hawea brigade - had happened upon the scene. He lowered himself from the bridge onto the upside-down car using an electrical cord, Waimate firefighter Andrew McKenzie said.

When emergency services arrived, the man had been standing on the car reassuring the women for about 30 minutes.

McKenzie waded into the fast-flowing stream, in water that reached above his waist, and climbed onto the car's greasy undercarriage with the other man's help. He was joined by another firefighter, Graham Jeffery.

"We... had a quick chat on the car and decided what we were going to do," McKenzie said.

"They only had about five inches of air inside, and we didn't know where exactly they were in there, or if their feet were trapped."

Firefighters on the bridge lowered the jaws of life to the men in the stream to prise the doors off the vehicle. They freed the two women within a few minutes of each other.

The two women were rushed to Timaru Hospital by St John ambulance. They had hypothermia, bruises and cuts but were released the next day with no serious injuries.

The efforts of the fire brigade, and particularly the men who went into the water, undoubtedly saved the women's lives, Waimate police Senior Sgt Mike van der Heyden said.

The women are now recovering well and are extremely grateful for their rescuers.

The Timaru Herald