The woman missing after her car plunged off Pukete bridge on Wednesday night is a 40-year-old Korean woman.
Officer in charge of the Hamilton Missing Persons Team, Sergeant Craig Singer, said investigators have confirmed the driver of the vehicle was a 40-year-old Korean woman.
"Currently the focus of our enquiries is establishing the woman's movement prior to the crash while at the same time trying to locate her.
"This has taken the shape of land and boat based searches of the Waikato River and its banks, hospital checks and consultation with Consular officials while keeping the missing woman's family apprised of what is happening."
Sergeant Singer said investigators had identified a woman who they believe was driving the Toyota Surf vehicle at the time of the crash and had been working with her family to establish her movements prior to the crash.
"The vehicle was located about 40m downstream from the bridge late yesterday morning by specialist Police Divers and was recovered about 1pm," Mr Singer said.
"On searching there was no body located in the vehicle and when you consider initial witness reports of a person seen in the water after the crash we are focusing our efforts on searches of the river banks and of the river itself."
Mr Singer said a family liaison officer is now working with the woman's family ensuring they are provided with support and are being kept up to date with developments.
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The woman's vehicle was hauled out of the river about 2.15pm yesterday and soon after the search continued – both in the river and on the riverbanks.
A forensic analysis of the Toyota was also underway.
It's possible the occupant managed to escape the vehicle once it filled with water as all windows were in tact when it was pulled from the river.
Waikato road policing manager, Inspector Leo Tooman said it appeared the Toyota was travelling east – towards River Rd – on Wednesday night when the driver lost control, crossed the centreline and hit a concrete barrier – shunting it 18 inches – before rebounding on to the correct side of the road, crashing through a barrier and plunging 15m into the river.
Mr Tooman said they were still seeking witnesses but had spoken to a motorist who was travelling ahead of the Toyota when it's headlights vanished from view in their rearview mirror.
Mr Tooman wouldn't elaborate on how the crash happened or whether speed was a factor, but said the serious crash unit investigation would focus on three things – environment, vehicle and the driver's actions.
He wouldn't say whether potholes, complained about by several other motorists, could have played a part.
Several motorists contacted the Times concerned that large potholes on that section of road could be to blame for the vehicle leaving the road.
Tracey Liddington said 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."
Sheryl Hewitson said the road was a "danger to travel".
"I, too, hit the potholes around 7pm and thought it was an accident waiting to happen."
But Downer project manager Iain Fletcher did not believe the crash was linked to potholes which appeared on the west side of Pukete Bridge some time after his team did their final site inspection at about 6pm on Wednesday.
Downer staff repaired the potholes yesterday morning, which were approximately 50m from where the car appeared to have crossed from the left lane to the right lane and hit a concrete barrier.
It was a further 10m or so to where the car crossed back to the left lane, climbed a 30cm curb and broke through a metal fence before plunging into the river.
"We can't see it (being related) it just seems to be too far away."
Mr Fletcher said the seal on that particular part of the road was only a week old, which possibly contributed to the potholes appearing following the heavy downpour and heavy traffic.
"There's nothing to indicate that had anything to do with this accident at the moment."
He said the road was built on a solid sand foundation, but given the wintery weather it was not unusual that some tiny cracks had developed into potholes before they had been driven on enough to settle into a smooth road.Mr Fletcher said Downer was doing their own investigation, as well as working with the police, Hamilton City Council and other parties. The Department of Labour is also investigating.
HOW TO ESCAPE A SUBMERGED VEHICLE
The weight of water against doors will make windows too hard to open. If submerged, water will gradually seep into the vehicle.
Escape through the windows. If this isn't possible, wait until the vehicle is filled almost to head height with water. The doors will be easier to open then as the pressure inside the vehicle will be almost the same as it is outside.
Before leaving the vehicle, turn the lights on so rescuers can find it more easily.
Form a human chain with any other passengers as you leave the vehicle. This will make sure you all stay together.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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