Body found after Tongariro truck crash

Last updated 20:03 08/11/2012
Crash scene
MAURICE COSTELLO/Fairfax NZ

'BOMB SITE': The crash scene at Waihohonu Stream, on State Highway 1.

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Police looking for the driver of a truck that plunged into a central North Island stream have found a body.

The truck was discovered partially submerged in the Waihohonu Stream on the Desert Rd section of State Highway 1 just after 4am.

Police this evening said a man's body was found when the truck's cab was lifted from the water using a crane.

The man, believed to be the driver of the truck, was in the stream beneath the vehicle.

Police said the driver was a 55-year-old man from Porirua.

His name would be released once police have confirmed that all family have been notified.

Police will be recovering the truck for examination and the road is expected to re-open later this evening.

The road has now re-opened, police said.

‘LIKE A BOMB HAD GONE OFF’

Earlier, Taupo area commander Inspector Steve Bullock said police crash investigators were examining the scene and it was too early to say if speed was a factor.

Bullock described the scene as "like a bomb had gone off".

Swift swirling currents and narrow channels beneath the Waihohonu Stream bridge had made searching for the missing driver difficult.

Divers, with and without tanks, and tied by rope to colleagues on the riverbank, battled the swift currents and slowly felt their way around and under the wreckage and large boulders.

The stream, fed by melting spring snow from National Park, was running as swift as river, at about 11 cubic metres a second.  

The truck and trailer unit lay in the water half submerged below the bridge after it came to rest tumbling off the road and down the bank.

It appeared the southbound driver had swerved on a moderate left hand bend, run off the road and hit a barrier on the bridge before the weight of the trailer tipped the vehicle over and into the water 20 metres below.

Contents from the trailer, which included some hazardous materials - pool chlorine and insecticide - but mainly general goods, were strewn down the bank, and up to 40 metres downstream.

Three large drums were stranded downstream on rocks, but appeared to be intact and not leaking hazardous material.

Early reports the truck was carrying radioactive materials was proved inaccurate, police said.

The cab lying jammed between rocks under the bridge was destroyed with the roof ripped off.

A pair of overalls, a single sock and a black fleece top lay on the floor.

A chrome nameplate bearing the nickname - Goddess of Fire - of the red coloured truck, understood to be contracted to Mainfreight, lay bent and twisted beside the wreckage.

A Mainfreight representative at the crash scene did not want to comment.

Family members had been contacted in Wellington and Auckland and were driving to the crash scene.

It was understood the southbound truck crashed about 4.30am.

Police were alerted by a passing truck driver who saw the smashed road barrier.

Environment Waikato’s Dr Tony Petch confirmed the swiftness of the river, and the small quantity of hazardous goods on board, had not affected the water quality.

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"In the worst case scenario the environmental effects are minor," he said.

Test samples of the water upstream and downstream of the crash had been taken to the lab and results would be known tomorrow, he said.

THE WRECKAGE

A large grill at the Rangipo power intake was positioned on the river 3km downstream, he said.

Diggers worked to clear the bank of debris and have it removed it by trucks.

Scuff marks on the road 100m before the crash scene may have been caused by the trailer overbalancing and making it difficult for the driver to control, one observer at the scene said.

Heavy haulage operators were standing by waiting until the search area had been cleared of debris to begin attempting to lift the truck and trailer up from the water.

The combined weights of the wreckage and crane made it impossible for the crane to park on the bridge and any lifting would be done using a long arm crane.

Disconnecting the trailer from the tractor unit and cab would be needed before any lifting was undertaken.

It is understood to be the first major crash on the bridge in 30 years.

It is the second serious truck crash in the region in the past fortnight.

A driver walked away uninjured when his large truck and trailer unit carrying dairy products crashed down a 10m bank at Bulli Point, Lake Taupo two weeks ago.

It took three days to salvage the wreckage.

- STACEY KIRK, MIKE WATSON, CLIO FRANCIS and MICHELLE COOKE/Stuff

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