40 minutes in a flooded river
Crash victim clings to tree in riverASHLEIGH STEWART
A motorcyclist thrown into a swollen Canterbury river after colliding with a truck clung onto a small branch for 40 minutes to avoid being swept away.
Emergency services responded to reports of a truck colliding with the man on the Old Waimakariri Bridge about 7.20am today.
The 47-year-old Rangiora man clung to a tree in the river for 40 minutes before he was plucked from the rapids in a gutsy rescue.
He has been transported to Christchurch Hospital with hypothermia and minor injuries.
Police said the truck had been travelling north over the bridge at the time of the accident.
The driver had been looking at the swollen water levels and had not noticed cars backed up in front of him, Senior Sergeant Malcolm Johnston said.
"The truck's gone sideways, careered into the guardrail and ended up hanging over the guardrail."
It was now hanging "precariously" over the side of the bridge.
The motorcyclist had been travelling south, had "slammed on the brakes and has clipped the truck".
He plunged into the river through the broken guardrail.
After being swept downstream 40 metres, the man managed to grab hold of a willow tree in the middle of the river to avoid being carried further.
As there was generally a low volume of water in the river, if it had not been in flood, the man would have likely broken his neck, Johnston said.
"He probably would have been swept away to his death had it not been for a small, spindly willow tree branch."
The truck driver was shaken but not injured.
"Charges will be considered by police and are likely, but it's early days," Johnston said.
Westpac rescue helicopter general manager Simon Duncan said the rescue had been "extremely tricky".
"The river is very swollen, it's in huge flood," Duncan said.
The helicopter flew over the scene of the crash and dropped a paramedic in the water to reach the motorcyclist.
"The paramedic was put in and then came downstream on to him - it's a very tricky thing to do.
"He put a rescue belt around him and the two were winched together."
The heavy leather and helmet the man was wearing would have made it harder for him to stay afloat.
He was "very lucky" to be alive.
"He's done an amazing job to hang on against the river current."
Police search and rescue co-ordinator Ryan O'Rourke said he "couldn't be happier" with how the rescue went.
"It was a multi-organisation operation and it went as close to perfect as it could've gone."
The bridge was closed and would be "for a considerable time" while the guardrail was repaired. Diversions were in place.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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