Speed 'a factor' in fatal crash

04:10, Feb 05 2014
Southland Hospital staff
FATAL SITE: Southland Hospital staff transfer an injured tourist from the Southern Lakes rescue helicopter after a fatal crash about 30km from Lumsden.

Speed was likely a factor in a fatal crash in Southland, Southland District Council staff examining the scene say.

They also criticised the lack of skills of some foreign drivers.

Engineer Bruce Miller and strategic transport manager Joe Bourque were at the scene of yesterday's crash near Athol about 30 kilometres from Lumsden this afternoon.

Van crash Southland
DETOUR: The tourists were driving along Nokomai Rd to take photos of the river when the van veered off the road, police say.

They believed the van carrying the 10 tourists was speeding before it plunged into the Mataura River near Athol at 1.20pm yesterday.

One person died in the wreck, a 59-year-old Canadian man from Toronto. He did not escape from the van when it entered the river.

His wife, a Canadian, 52, and the couple's two daughters were also in the van, part of an "extended family group" of 10 travelling to Milford Sound for a day trip, he said.


The man's wife was expected to be released from Southland Hospital today, police said. She suffered neck injuries in the crash. The couple's daughters, aged 12 and 14, were discharged from Southland Hospital last night.

The group, ranging in age from 12 to 68 years, were travelling on Canadian and Chinese passports, police said. 

The crash happened about 30 kilometres from Lumsden.

The tourists were taking a detour along Nokomai Rd, Mid Dome, to take photos of the river when the van veered off the road, police say.

Many overseas drivers do not understand how to drive to the conditions on unsealed roads, Bourque said.

He could not understand what happened because the bridge was in good condition and there had been good weather.

"There really is no reason for this to have happened," he said.

Miller said it was unusual the van did not hit the first posts on the bridge. The wheel had appeared to have clipped the concrete edge of the bridge, gone over the middle (of the bridge) and landed on its rear, with the bonnet pointing up.

"They must have been speeding for it to bounce over the fence railing like that," Miller said.

Earlier, a fire chief praised the actions of three Australian fishermen who jumped into the Mataura River to rescue the tourists.

Robert Durling, chief fire officer of Athol Volunteer Rural Fire Force, just happened to be passing when he thought he heard "something going on".

As soon as he saw what had happened, he jumped into the river to help the fishermen who were trying to get the trapped passengers to the safety of the riverbank.

He credited their actions for saving the lives of the other passengers.

"Those guys were brilliant. They did good. Their actions helped to save those rescued."

It did not bear thinking about what could have happened if the fishermen had not been there to help, he said. "It was also lucky they [passengers] were not caught under luggage and lucky the fishermen were there."

A crew of four other Athol firefighters jumped into the river 10 minutes later to help get the rest of the passengers to safety. The river was about 1.5 metres high, he said.

Firefighters had been nearby helping an injured shearer when they got the call.


The Southland Times