No body found in car

Search goes on after bridge plunge

BELINDA FEEK AND LOUISE RISK
Last updated 15:20 07/06/2012
FAIRFAX MEDIA

A car has plunged over the edge of Hamilton's Pukete Bridge, 15m to the river below

Car plunge
PETER DRURY/Waikato Times
Haul: Police haul a car from the Waikato River.

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LATEST: The police dive squad have  found the vehicle that plunged into the Waikato River last night but no body.

Divers felt the Toyota Surf shortly after 12.30 and have hauled it out of the water. Police have confirmed there is no body in the car.

Inspector Karen Henrikson said the vehicle was found about 40m north of the bridge at a depth of about 2-3m.

A search has now begun for the occupants of the vehicle, both in the river and on the riverbanks. A forensic analysis of the Toyota was also underway.

 Earlier this morning Waikato road policing manager Inspector Leo Tooman said initial indications were that an east bound vehicle on Wairere Dr, that would have been crossing the Pukete Bridge heading towards River Rd, crossed the centreline and hit a concrete barrier before rebounding on to the correct side of the road, crashing through a barrier and dropping into the Waikato River.

 "There was poor visibility at the time and despite emergency services converging on the scene and having a police rescue boat in the water, the vehicle has still not been located."

A witness rang 111 saying they saw a man swim from the wreck, but he had not been located.

Emergency services, including police in a search boat, worked together to search the water and bank for the driver not knowing whether he'd made it safely to shore before they arrived.

Both lanes of the bridge is open this morning, however a police scene guard is in place.

Mr Tooman said were still seeking witnesses to the crash.

"We have spoken to five people so far, none of who actually saw the crash however one man is pretty sure he saw a person escape the vehicle in the water and swim to shore but we've been unable to confirm this.

"At the same time we haven't heard anything from anyone who has a loved one unaccounted. If this is the case Police want to hear from you. Equally important, if you were involved in this crash and made it out we need to hear from you as we work to establish how many people were in the vehicle."

However one motorist, Tracey Liddington, said some large pot holes on that section of road could be to blame.

About an hour earlier she drove over that section of road and "lost control".

"I almost went over the bridge myself," she said. "I was lucky to be able to gain control of the car and that's why we reported it.

"At the time I said 'someone is going to go over that bridge'."

Her husband rung the police to tell them of their concerns.

She said she couldn't see the potholes because it was wet and dark.

"I thought if something did happen to someone else I would feel really bad. I could actually see something like that happening. I thought it was really unsafe."

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Her daughter also almost lost control at the same spot in a separate incident, and both were at the scene last night giving statements to police.

It's unknown how many people were in the car.

Another Hamilton motorist, Sheryl Hewitson, was not surprised to hear of the crash.

"The road is a danger to travel. I too, hit the potholes around 7pm and thought it was an accident waiting to happen. Each day we are shuffled into different lanes for no apparent reason. The road is not even sealed evenly."

The crash came just two hours after a heavy downpour of rain which caused a spate of crashes across Hamilton last night.

A woman was taken to hospital with serious injuries after a crash in the central city about 6.30pm, while a car crashed into a fence on Breckons Ave, Nawton, about 9pm.

Hamilton police Senior Sergeant Rupert Friend said "within 15 minutes" the police fielded about four or five calls about crashes around Hamilton.

They all happened just before or during the downpour, which was around 6pm.

 "One had happened just before the rain started so they were cleaning up during the downpour, the others happened during it."

Off the top of his head Mr Friend said crashes had occurred on Wairere Dr, Hukanui Rd, Te Rapa Rd and the one he attended on the corner of Anglesea and Bryce Sts.

In that crash, the passenger, believed to be a woman, had to be cut free from one of the cars, a white Honda Integra.

Mr Friend described her injuries as  "serious but not life threatening", and said the driver, a man, had been taken to hospital as well, with minor injuries, "mostly shock".

He understood there was no other passengers.

The driver of the other car was not injured.

Mr Friend said it was still unclear who was at fault or if one of the cars had run a red light.

"I don't know that either of them had red lights," Mr Friend said.

Mr Friend said because both the cars had come to a stop on Bryce St rather than on Anglesea St, the disruption to traffic had been minimal.

*Do you know anything about this crash? Please email: news@waikatotimes.co.nz or phone 07 849 9666

- Waikato Times

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