Baby Manmeet Singh came to New Zealand with his parents and sisters to be the golden boy at the centre of a traditional Punjabi festival.
Instead, the family were gathered in a small room at Hawke's Bay Hospital yesterday while a trauma team worked furiously to save 5-month-old Manmeet and five others seriously injured when their van veered off the Napier-Taupo Road.
A Hawke's Bay Hospital spokeswoman said the baby's condition had improved to serious but stable.
The van was being driven by Manmeet's uncle Sandeep, 33, who had driven from Havelock North to Auckland on Wednesday afternoon to collect brother Jagtar and his family off a flight from Melbourne.
Jagtar, who was raised in Hawke's Bay, was bringing his family home to celebrate the Lohri, held every January 13 to commemorate the birth of a boy, or the marriage of a newlywed couple.
"This was the the first time we were to see the baby," relative Baldav Raj said at the hospital yesterday.
"The grandparents had not seen Manmeet before. More than 50 people were coming from all over the country."
Early yesterday morning, Sandeep Singh drove the van full of eight relatives back towards Hawke's Bay. About 6km north of Te Haroto the van crossed the centre line and plunged 10 metres down a steep bank.
Somehow, a badly injured Sandeep managed to get out of the van and carried Manmeet with him up to the road.
"He said he made it up to the road [with his nephew] and was able to stop a car," Raj said. "Then he fainted, and someone in the car called police.
"We have seen him in the ward. He was badly hurt, and he was drowsy, but he was able to talk to us a little.
"We are all very shaken by this. We are thinking it was just so lucky that Sandeep was able to get up to the road. If he didn't, then maybe it could have been much longer before they were found."
Police, fire and ambulance crews, and three rescue helicopters, were all involved in the complicated rescue, which closed the road for several hours.
The six people trapped in the wreckage of the van had to be winched up by helicopter. All eight victims were taken to Hawke's Bay Hospital, which activated a "multiple trauma response" requiring extra specialists and nurses to be called in. Manmeet was in a critical condition in intensive care last night.
His father Jagtar was also in a critical condition, and was believed to have spinal injuries. Jagtar's wife Sukhwinder Kaur and their young daughters Amureet and Jaspreet were in a serious condition, along with family friend Satvir Singh.
Sandeep Singh and another family friend, Nihal Singh, were in a stable condition in a general ward.
St John ambulance paramedic Brendon Hutchinson said it was "incredibly lucky anyone survived, given the damage to the vehicle and how far it went down the bank".
"It was the sort of scene we arrive at and expect at least one fatality, probably more. They're very lucky."
Rescue pilot Jeremy Bruce told Radio New Zealand it appeared the driver had been driving through the night and had fallen asleep at the wheel.
There were several cans of Red Bull lying around the accident site.
- The Dominion Post