Tourists narrowly avoid crash
Two senior Waikato fire officers are praising the efforts of a truck driver whose quick thinking avoided multiple fatalities just north of Otorohanga on Tuesday night.
Four tourists, understood to be European, walked away from the crash on State Highway 31 after earlier turning straight into the path of a fully laden truck and trailer unit.
Waikato fire safety officer Kevin Holmes witnessed the crash that happened just after 9.30pm.
''I had been at a meeting in Otorohanga and was heading home, I had just pulled over on the side of the road to use my phone,'' he said.
In the distance Mr Holmes said he noticed two sets of lights heading south along SH 31 towards him.
''Something made me look up, I could see a car slowing right down on the main road like the people were looking for a road, the truck behind them slowed too,'' he said.
Mr Holmes watched as the car pulled to the left hand side of the road.
''Then it turned right, towards Waitomo Valley Rd, straight into the path of the truck which then t-boned the car on the drivers side.''
The truck driver, Matt Apatu, was hauling a load of meat through to Palmerston North.
''I knew I was following a rental because I saw the sticker on the back of the car. It indicated to turn left and pulled towards the shoulder of the road, I had slowed right down to about 60 kph when the car suddenly turned right,'' the 29-year-old Palmerston North truck driver said.
''I slammed my brakes on, and tried to get around him but I just remember the car disappearing under my bonnet.''
Running to the scene Mr Holmes said he could not believe how lucky the four tourists had been.
''They were shaken, but they weren't injured, but that's only because the truck driver had the presence of mind to slow right down - he had every right to be travelling at 90kmh, and if he had of been - we were all in trouble,'' he said.
Mr Holmes said he soon realised how lucky he was to escape with his life. ''If that truck had hit that vehicle at speed it would have taken me out as well.''
Sergeant Andy Connors from Otorohanga Police said the driver of the Nissan vehicle was a 50-year-old man from the Czech Republic. His passengers, two females and one male, were from the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Arriving at the crash scene, Otorohanga chief fire Neville King said he had visions of the September crash that claimed the life of American tourist Kallan Stithem and badly injured his new bride, Kirsten Steinke, further north at Waitomo Caves Rd.
''I was just thinking 'oh no, not again' and I honestly could not believe how lucky those people were to escape with no injuries - or worse,'' Mr King said.
Both men stressed the importance of drivers paying attention to their surroundings.
''You could tell [the tourists] were on their way to the caves, they certainly seemed more focussed on finding the right road and forgot about everything else - including what was behind them,'' Mr Holmes said.