Quick thinking saves injured driver

DRAMATIC RESCUE: The Buller Canyon Jet assists emergency services personnel with the recovery of a logging truck after the vehicle rolled into the Buller River on Thursday morning, trapping its driver.
DRAMATIC RESCUE: The Buller Canyon Jet assists emergency services personnel with the recovery of a logging truck after the vehicle rolled into the Buller River on Thursday morning, trapping its driver.

A combination of smalltown teamwork, rescue skills and luck saw an injured truck driver saved from the crumpled cab of his vehicle after it crashed into the Buller River.

The dramatic two-hour rescue yesterday involved firefighters, police, St John ambulance staff, river rafting guides, a jet boat operator and the Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter.

The Stuart Drummond Transport logging truck ran off State Highway 6 just north of Murchison and plunged 30 metres down a bank into the fast-flowing river about 10am. The injured Nelson driver was trapped in the mangled cab, with water lapping at the door.

One of the first people on the scene was Constable Michael McDougall of Murchison.

"The truck was literally in the middle of the Buller River. We were basically spectators without the right equipment," he said today.

He called Buller Canyon Jet but the owner was in Nelson. "Luckily, he's been training me to drive his jet boat. So that's when I made the call - we needed to get out to [the truck].

"I raced back into town with one of the local farmers, and we grabbed the jet boat and whipped up the river."

The boat was used to ferry firefighters and paramedics to the truck. At the same time, the rafting guides were preparing a raft as a stable platform for the rescuers to use.

McDougall said the outcome could have been a lot worse.

"I don't know how that truck landed [upright]. But if it landed on its side with him being trapped by his legs, he would have drowned. He was a very, very lucky man."

Rafting guide Lisa Cooper said she heard the Murchison fire siren alerting emergency services to the crash as she was driving out of town to catch the Picton ferry, en route to a guiding job in Canada.

"I . . . had all my rafting rescue kit in my car. So I just chucked it on," the Ultimate Descents guide said.

Cooper saw McDougall at the scene and asked if he needed a hand. "He said, ‘Yes, please'."

She said she was able to take the driver some medication and spoke with him.

"I got in there and managed to swim across to him and help him out."

Her rescue kit included her drysuit and lifejacket, ropes and other rescue gear.

She then called her fellow guide Simon Cole to come and help, and he bought along a raft and his kit.

"We were able to access it really well and use the raft as a platform to get [the driver] out."

Cooper said the rescue was a team effort and it "was good to know all the local guys".

After being cut from the wreck, the 53-year-old driver was flown to Nelson Hospital in a serious condition with pelvic and head injuries.

This morning he was in a stable condition in intensive care.

McDougall said the accident scene was a bit chaotic but the rescue went very smoothly.

"It's just a smalltown community thing where everyone does what they can, from farmers through to whoever.

"The local fire guys are just Joe Bloggs, and a lot of them are older guys. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have anyone.

"And it just worked out well that someone had trained me to use a jet boat - for that very reason, actually."

Murchison Volunteer Fire Brigade deputy chief fire officer Joe McLellan said he was taken out to the truck in the jet boat.

Firefighters used cutting equipment to free the man from the mangled cab.

He was lifted into the raft and taken to the riverbank, given medication and placed in the rescue helicopter.

McLellan said the driver was conscious and was in quite a bit of pain throughout the ordeal.

"It was very tricky, obviously, because we were in the middle of a flowing river.

"But it worked out. It was very good having the rafting guys there."

Firefighters from the Tapawera Volunteer Fire Brigade also attended the accident.

"It was some really, really good smalltown teamwork there. It was excellent," McLellan said.

An investigation is under way to establish the cause of the crash, which saw one lane of the highway temporarily closed.

A digger was used to remove the wrecked truck from the river yesterday afternoon. It was pulled across to the farm on the opposite side of the river from where it crashed.

The Nelson Mail