Rescuers expected to find bodies when they arrived at a crash site where a truck carrying a container had crushed the roof of a car flat.
Instead they were shocked to find two Argentinian brothers who somehow walked away unscathed from their squashed vehicle on State Highway 6.
Brothers Matias and Agustin Carrasco, believed to be on a working holiday around New Zealand, were recovering in Nelson today after a night spent reassuring worried family in Argentina that they were safe.
The accident happened about 11.30am yesterday at Collins Valley, between Rai Valley and Nelson.
An eastbound TNL freight truck carrying empty wine bottles to Blenheim appeared to cross the centre line before tipping and colliding with two cars travelling in the opposite direction, St John Ambulance shift manager Mike Casey said.
A 66-year-old Blenheim woman driving one of the cars was trapped in her vehicle for over an hour before firefighters cut her free with specialist equipment.
The Nelson Marlborough rescue helicopter flew her to Wairau Hospital with moderate injuries to her lower back and face, along with her 70-year-old passenger.
The brothers' car appeared to bear the brunt of the damage, with the container crushing the roof of the vehicle and coming to rest on its rear section.
Rai Valley chief fire officer Trevor Holdstock, one of the first on the scene, said a passerby drove to the Rai Valley fire station to report the accident. There was no cellphone reception at the crash site.
"The guy said ‘it's bad'," Mr Holdstock said. "You're gonna see dead bodies."
Mr Holdstock said when he got to the scene and saw a 13-metre container truck had smashed into one car and landed on top of another, he expected the worst.
"I honestly thought, ‘oh dear, we've got a K41 [fatality], or two or three'," he said.
Mr Holdstock was shocked when the Argentinian men who had been sitting near the road barrier told him in broken English that they had escaped from the crushed car.
"If you came face to face with what we saw, it was shocking," he said.
"How people walked out of that without dying is unbelievable."
Mr Casey said it was "absolutely miraculous" that the brothers were not badly injured.
"Sometimes you just wonder how on earth do people just walk away in these types of incidents."
The brothers returned to their vehicle to retrieve what possessions they could from the wreckage as it remained pinned under the truck.
Senior Constable Beau Webster, of Havelock, said he believed speed had been a factor in the accident.
The driver of the truck, who was extremely shaken, appeared to have been going too quick around the corner, he said.
One of the brothers received only a minor cut to his hand getting out of the car.
Mr Webster said he had also spoken to the driver of a third car, which managed to narrowly avoid the crash.
The man and his woman passenger, a nurse, were in front of the two cars heading toward Nelson when they saw the container on the truck start to tilt. The driver put his foot down when he looked in his rear-view mirror and saw the truck collide with the first car and land on the other car.
A police spokeswoman said a crash investigation was under way and it was too early to determine whether charges would be laid.
The accident closed the state highway for several hours. It was eventually reopened about 4.30pm after the truck was righted and towed.
Traffic backed up either side of the closure, between Rai Valley and the bottom of the Whangamoa Saddle.
- The Nelson Mail
Do you agree with the city council's decision to put a 30-minute limit on buskers' performances?Related story: (See story)