With his foot jammed in the crumpled wreck of his truck and the cab filling with smoke, Bill Stirling told his rescuers to leave him and save themselves.
"But I'm glad they didn't because God must have decided otherwise. My foot came free and they got me out just as the thing blew," the 78-year-old Hastings kaumatua said, recalling the crash that nearly killed him on October 16, 2010.
Rather than leave him trapped, Dominion Post journalist Martin Kay and Haumoana flooring contractor Colin Wiggins helped free Mr Stirling, dragging him to safety moments before flames engulfed the truck.
The two men are joining ranks with 15 other Kiwi heroes being honoured with medals in the 2013 Bravery Honours, announced today.
Among the recipients are Christchurch great-grandmother Lois Kennedy, who tried to fend off a man who was attacking his mother with a sword; Georgina Langford, who tried to thwart a paranoid family member who shot his son, and police officers, including Sergeant Michael Wardle, who rescued a shot colleague.
Ms Langford and Mr Wardle receive the New Zealand Bravery Decoration (NZBD), which recognises acts of exceptional bravery in situations of danger, while the other 15 recipients receive New Zealand Bravery Medals, which recognise acts of bravery.
Ms Langford tried to wrestle a gun away from a relative who had shot his son. The award comes as she is dealing with the death on Friday of her brother, Michael Langford, in a Nelson logging accident.
Sergeant Michael Wardle, stationed in Nelson, receives the bravery decoration for standing his ground when faced with an an armed man who had already shot two police officers and killed a police dog.
In the Hawke's Bay incident, Mr Stirling was thrilled to hear his rescuers were to get medals. "It was a dangerous situation they put themselves into. I can't say enough about them. They deserve the award. If they hadn't made that attempt I would have given up. I'd be ashes now," he said.
"They were very humble about it. They're quiet heroes."
Mr Wiggins did not consider his actions brave.
"It's not about being brave, it's something you just do because you're there. You can't just walk away."
He had talked to Mr Stirling, who had been a friend of his father's, about two weeks after the accident but since then had done his best to "move on" from it.
Mr Kay and Mr Wiggins were in separate cars when they came across the crash between a light truck and a car in Lawn Rd near Hastings.
The crash set both vehicles on fire. The truck was on its side on the road with Mr Stirling trapped in its cab, and the car that had run into it was in a ditch with driver Matt McCann, 17, also trapped.
The pair dragged Mr McCann from his car, then ran to the truck but could not see inside the smoke-filled cab. Mr Wiggins tried to smash the windscreen with a hammer, but was blown back by a gust of smoke.
With Mr Kay's help, they smashed out the windscreen, and felt around in the cab to locate the driver. They dragged Mr Stirling from the cab before the truck was engulfed in flames. The heat and intensity of the fire set the road's tar seal on fire.
Mr McCann, now 20, was also thrilled to hear that the rescuers had been recognised for their actions.
"They deserve it. I'd quite possibly not be talking to you now if it wasn't for them.
"I'd like to thank them for taking the time to check we were OK, because we weren't," he said.
- The Dominion Post