Fatal truck smash a 'wall of flame'

CHRIS HYDE, KATHRYN KING AND AIMEE GULLIVER
Last updated 17:00 08/01/2014
MURRAY WILSON/Fairfax NZ

Two trucks and a car were involved in this fatal crash south of Sanson on State Highway 1.

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MORNING SCENE: Photos from the crash, taken at 8.30am on Wednesday morning.
SH1 fatal crash near Sanson on SH1
GRANT MATTHEW/Fairfax NZ
HUGE LOAD: The crash happened behind the convoy of this 24-metre long, 11-metre wide catamaran, which was being transported from Palmerston North to Foxton via Sanson overnight.

Horror smash SH1

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One of the truck drivers carrying a multi-million dollar boat from Palmerston North to Foxton Beach tried to put out a "wall of fire" after a fatal crash took place behind him overnight.

Central House Movers truck driver Matt Nairn was transporting the top deck of an 11 metre-wide Profab Central Engineering-built catamaran along State Highway 1 when he heard a "massive bang" about 200m behind him.

At least one person died in the smash between two trucks and a car following the go-slow convoy on State Highway 1 south of Sanson in Manawatu shortly after midnight.

The road was badly damaged in the crash and closed for much fo the day. It reopened this afternoon.

The 24-metre long and 11m-wide vessel was being carried in two parts - a hull and a top deck - in a crawling journey from Palmerston North to Foxton via Sanson overnight.

Nairn said he looked behind him to see a fire starting. He stopped the truck, grabbed a fire extinguisher, and ran to the scene.

"Once the blaze had started it was useless. There was nothing we could do. We had four to six extinguishers between us but it was a waste of time.

"I didn't even realise there was a car in there because the flames were so big.

"It was side to side on the road and up as high as the power lines, we couldn't get to the other side. It was a big wall of fire.

"Our team were just focused on getting the truck drivers out and then once that had been done, the first explosion happened."

Nairn said he believed the uninjured truck drivers had made it out of the truck on their own. 

Concerns then turned to the boat, he said.

The 110 tonne boat - when fully assembled and full of fuel - sleeps 18 people and is to be launched later in the month in the mouth of the Manawatu River before being sailed to Darwin to be predominantly used by an oil and gas company as a gear transporter.

"We started getting concerned about the wires in the heat.

"The fact we had $7 million worth of boat close to the fire was definitely in the back of the mind, and we wanted to unblock the road for emergency services, so we made the decision to carry on.

"There was diesel all over the road and as we got back to the trucks we started hearing more explosions. It could have been tyres popping, I don't know, but there were about 10 explosions in total."

None of the trucks in the crash were taking part in the boat move, Nairn said.

The boat arrived in Foxton Beach at about 4am, nine hours after leaving Profab Engineering in Palmerston North.

The Central House Movers team were shifting the boat into the water this afternoon, Nairn said.

"It's a horrible thing to have happened. We had enough to think about in general while we were shifting it and for this to happen is not nice for the guys."

EXPLOSION WAS 'HUGE MUSHROOM CLOUD'

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Nick Perry, 15, and his brother Dion, 16, were standing at their gate on SH1 watching the huge catamaran creep along the road, travelling at slow speed towards Foxton, taking up both lanes.

The Big Chill truck was directly behind the truck carrying part of the huge boat, while a red car way following the Big Chill truck.

Almost directly outside the Perry's home, a third truck carrying fresh produce came up behind the convoy at a faster speed and wasn't able to break hard enough in time, Nick said.

It ploughed into the back of the red car, pushing it under the back right side of the Big Chill truck.

At the time of impact, there was a huge explosion and all three vehicles burst into flame.

"The flames went up like a mushroom cloud, reaching up to the power lines," said Nick.

The car was completely engulfed in flames.

The fresh produce truck continued around the smash and came to a stop across the road in front of the other vehicles.

The teens said both trucks were carrying full loads.

Nick and Dion ran back into the house and called 111, while their father went and spoke with one of the drivers who was found sitting in a paddock.

A crane was at the scene, lifting parts of the wreckages this morning.

The impact of the crash saw pieces of charred vegetables sprayed across the scene.

IN-CAB VIDEO VIEWED

Big Chill chief executive Michael Roberts said his company's truck had cameras throughout it, and his company had already seen the footage.

''We have a pretty clear idea of how it occurred and who is at fault.''

Even though police were yet to finish investigations, the footage would help comfort his driver, he said.

''It's good for the driver to know early on that he's behaved okay.

''He's a good experienced operator.''

Roberts said the driver was already travelling back to his base in Auckland, and was likely to have some time off.

'I HAD NOWHERE TO GO' - TRUCK DRIVER 

Neville Pearson, who lived on nearby Milner Rd, said he heard a "fairly big" bang some time after midnight, followed by more bangs, and at first thought someone was out shooting rabbits.

He looked out his window and saw fire, at first thinking one of the houses flanking the crash site was ablaze.

When he arrived at the scene about 15 minutes later, the damaged car was engulfed in flames in the middle of the road.

One of the trucks, which both came to a stop facing south, had a badly damaged cab.

At that time, the fire had not reached the cabs of the trucks, and both drivers were out.

He asked one driver what happened and was told "a car and a truck came out of nowhere...I had no where to go".

The second driver, in shock, had to be called in by firemen from wandering in a nearby paddock.

Flames from one of the trucks had been reaching up to the power lines, Pearson said.

A second man, who pulled up to the cordons briefly, said he was behind the vehicles and one of the trucks was carrying a wide load.

ROAD REPAIRED

SH1 reopen in both lanes at 3.45pm this afternoon though there was a 50kmh speed limit in place due to repairs to the road.

All three vehicles involved in the crash were removed from the scene and taken away for analysis.

"We are continuing to investigate the cause of the crash and make inquiries with witnesses," Senior Sergeant Nigel Allan said.

"I want to thank motorists and residents in the area for their patience while we cleared the road and completed our scene examination. I urge motorists to continue to exercise caution and stay alert to the road conditions."

- Fairfax Media

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