Driver dodges being crushed

DAMAGED: Eight people suffered minor injuries when this bus crashed into milk tanker.
DAMAGED: Eight people suffered minor injuries when this bus crashed into milk tanker.

When an upturned milk tanker flew through the air towards Gore woman Saraya Mckay, her immediate reaction was "holy s...".

Moments before, the Open Country Dairy tanker, carrying about 60,000 litres of milk, had rolled, and lay on its side prone to oncoming traffic.

A bus, travelling north, slammed into the tanker, sending it flying towards a terrified Mckay, who was sitting metres away in her stationary vehicle.

"I was like holy s..., it's going to land on my car. If I'd stopped just a metre or two further up, I'd be crushed."

The Gore woman was driving to Invercargill on a dark and wet Sunday night when she came across the crash scene just north of Mataura.

As one of the first on the scene, Mckay saw the tanker at the last second and slammed on her brakes, stopping just short of it. Three men were already assisting the tanker driver who appeared to be trapped in the cab.

"I put my hazard lights on and jumped out of the car to see if they needed a hand."

The driver was alert and communicating, she said.

But the drama was far from over. On returning to her car, Mckay heard three men shouting.

"They were like woah, woah, woah, and then bang, the whole cab of the truck lifted up and landed right in front of my car," she said.

A Ritchies bus, travelling north, had collided with the upturned tanker, forcing the cab back upright while the driver was still inside, she said.

Detective Sergeant Greg Baird, of Gore CIB, confirmed the crash was the result of two separate incidents.

Indications were that the southbound tanker initially rolled and came to a stop before it was struck by the northbound bus. The truck and trailer appeared to be blocking both lanes of the road when it was struck by the bus, he said.

Eight occupants from the vehicles were treated for injuries and five taken to hospital for treatment, two via air ambulance. None had serious injuries, he said.

InterCity, which is affiliated with Ritchies, confirmed one of its coaches was involved in a collision.

InterCity general manager Sam Peate said the company's first priority was the welfare of passengers and staff members. The firm was conducting a full internal investigation as well as assisting the police with their inquiries.

Open Country Dairy did not return calls yesterday.

Mataura chief fire officer Neil Rogan, who was one of the first at the scene, said the initial task was identifying and assessing the injured.

Neighbours were getting passengers out of the rain and comforting them, he said.

"It was quite a daunting scene, with a truck overturned and a bus and truck colliding, but at the end of the day it was not that serious [injuries-wise], which was a real blessing.

"Most people had a few bumps and bruises but it could have been a lot worse."

The spot where the incident occurred had no nearby streetlights, and the way the tanker had rolled meant the oncoming bus would not have seen the headlights, Rogan said.

Milk from the tanker had mostly drained away by the time he arrived.

Environment Southland spokeswoman Adrienne Henderson said there was no risk to waterways as a result of the crash.

Police investigations are continuing.

The Southland Times