Mayhem strikes Waikato

MATT BOWEN AND JENNA LYNCH
Last updated 05:00 08/01/2014
Tirau plane crash
MARK TAYLOR/Fairfax NZ

PLANE DOWN: Emergency services work to free a pilot after a microlight plane crashed near Tirau.

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A plane plunged nose first into a paddock, trucks and cars slammed into each other, a boat caught fire, a scrub fire started and 3000 litres of herbicide leaked into a stream during a day of mayhem in the Waikato.

Emergency services were flat out from dawn treating multiple injures, ranging from minor to critical.

At 10am, a 76-year-old amateur pilot was injured when his microlight aircraft ploughed into the dirt off State Highway 27, just north of Tirau.

Witness Michelle Faber said her "adventurous" neighbour Dalton Poppe took off from his back paddock landing strip, like he usually does, and flew in a wide arc before coming in to land. She was about to take a photo because it was always a "cool" sight to see.

"All of a sudden he just dropped," she said yesterday.

"I was like ‘f***, I better get down there'. It happened in a second."

Daughter Holly called emergency services while Ms Faber kept Mr Poppe company.

"He said, ‘This is the last time I'm doing this Michelle'. I said, ‘You should take up another hobby, like camel riding'. I had to try and keep him happy."

Good friend Leon Goscomb said Poppe was "a good bugger". "He's lived here all his life and he'll do anything for anybody and everybody.

"I told him to give it up he's getting too old."

Goscomb thought the wind probably caught Poppe out because "if you get side winds those little things flip over pretty easily".

The plane's frame buckled when it hit the ground and firefighters dismantled the aircraft to extract Poppe.

He was flown to Waikato Hospital with spinal injuries.

The Civil Aviation Authority is now investigating.

A short time later, about 12.30pm, there was a serious road smash on the Coromandel Peninsula between two cars on Purangi Rd near Cooks Beach.

Two helicopters airlifted three seriously injured patients from the scene, one suffered life-threatening injuries and two were in a serious condition.

St John northern communications team leader Norm Ngatai said five people needed medical attention.

A woman in her 60s was taken to Auckland Hospital with a broken pelvis and other injuries, Ngatai said.

While an ambulance took two more people to Thames Hospital with minor injuries.

Waikato police prevention manager Inspector Rob Lindsay said it was the third serious crash in the Waikato despite yesterday's driving conditions being ideal.

The first smash of the day happened on SH27, near Matamata, at 6.10am.

Initial indications suggested a southbound truck swerved to avoid colliding with the rear of a B-train that was braking in front for a notoriously narrow bridge.

As a truck swerved to the right it veered into the path of an oncoming B-train and they collided head-on. The truck driver avoided injury, but the train driver was heavily trapped and seriously injured.

Sergeant Dean Kaio said truckies know the bridge is a hazard. They usually communicate via radio on approach so two trucks do not cross the bridge at the same time.

"It would seem this truck has gone too fast for the conditions and has had to swing out and crashed straight into this vehicle," Kaio said.

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A truckie, Daryl Adams, was one of the first on the "pretty horrific" scene.

He said the trapped driver, a man in his 50s, was conscious. "He was a bit of a mess. The whole thing just folded in around him."

It was nearly two hours before the fire service managed to cut the driver free. The Westpac Waikato Rescue Helicopter flew him to Waikato Hospital with serious leg injuries.

Meanwhile, at 7.30am, a spray truck carrying 3000 litres of weed killer crashed at the corner of Kennedy and Waitawheta roads near Waikino.

The diluted herbicide drained into the Taiari Stream which flows into the Ohinemuri River and down the Karangahake Gorge.

Waikato Regional Council staff checked the stream up to two kilometres downstream of the crash site and found no sign of damage to aquatic life.

"We're hopeful the spill will have had minimal impact on eels, fish and other stream life," compliance and education manager Rob Dragten said.

"But we'd ask the public to be on the lookout and report any signs of problems with aquatic life in the Taiari Stream and Ohinemuri River."

Water samples would take a few days to analyse and until those test results are through, the Waikato District Health Board has advised people should take a precautionary approach and avoid contact with Taiari steam water downstream of the crash site.

From streams to fire, it was a close call for a train travelling near a scrub blaze on the railway tracks yesterday afternoon. The fire at Rukuhia began about 6pm and spread 250m. Hamilton man Owen Mataiti was driving home from Ngahinapouri when he came across the fire.

"I thought it was a local farmer having a burn off, turned out the scrub and trees on the side of the railway were on fire. I grabbed my camera and took some photos, as I was taking photo's a train came through," he said.

Firefighters throughout the region responded quickly and brought what was shaping up to be "a bit of a major" under control, Hamilton Fire Service station manager, Geoff Gray said. Appliances from Cambridge, Te Awamutu, Pirongia, Hamilton and Chartwell came to fight the scrub fire. They found the scrub ablaze and the fire spread to peat around the area.

"Other times we've been involved with peat fires we've had to bring in diggers and it's been a three or four day exercise," Gray said.

Fire communications shift manager, Tania Matthews said with the exception of one train, all were stopped and electricity to powerlines overhead turned off.

Elsewhere in the region, four people were helped to shore at Pauanui after the engine on their boat caught fire about 2.30pm, 500 metres off shore.

No-one was hurt but in Raglan, three people were injured when their boat slammed into rocks at Whale Bay, about 9.15am. Two people were taken to Waikato Hospital with moderate injuries. 

- Waikato Times

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