Speed 'a factor' in fatal crash

COLLETTE DEVLIN
Last updated 15:35 05/02/2014
Fairfax

Authorities examine the scene of the fatal crash.

Mataura River crash
COLLETTE DEVLIN/Fairfax NZ
The site of yesterday's fatal crash.

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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.

They believed the van carrying the ten 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 man from Hong Kong. He did not escape from the van when it entered the river.

His wife, a Canadian, and the couple's two teenage 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 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.

"It's a worry," he said, "how do we deal with a higher influx of tourism."

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.

FISHERMEN PRAISED

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.

SEVERAL INJURED

A St John spokesman said a woman in her 40s with possible spinal injuries and another person with possible head injuries were flown to Southland Hospital.

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A woman, whose age was unknown, was flown to Dunedin Hospital by helicopter and had possible chest injuries, accompanied by an uninjured person from the scene.

St John said five patients with minor or no injuries were also taken to Southland Hospital by ambulance.

A Southern District Health Board statement said the patients were in a stable condition.

- The Southland Times

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