Off-duty cop among bystanders who saved pair in Waikato River crash

Rescuers work to free the couple from the ute shortly after it plunged 10 metres down the bank into the Waikato River at ...
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Rescuers work to free the couple from the ute shortly after it plunged 10 metres down the bank into the Waikato River at Cambridge on Saturday afternoon.

Bystanders, including an off-duty police officer, are being praised for jumping into a fast-flowing Waikato River to pull two people from a submerged car to safety. 

Once they reached the steep banks on the outskirts of Cambridge, they initiated CPR on the 60-year-old woman, which continued for an hour until she regained a pulse.   

The woman was taken by ambulance to Waikato Hospital in a critical condition, where she remained in the Intensive Care Unit on Sunday, a hospital spokesperson said.

Traffic in Cambridge was gridlocked after police closed the roads while the Serious Crash Unit investigated.
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Traffic in Cambridge was gridlocked after police closed the roads while the Serious Crash Unit investigated.

The man who was driving the ute towing a boat trailer when it plunged metres into the river off State Highway 1 on Saturday afternoon was also taken to Waikato Hospital in a moderate condition and on Sunday was in a stable condition in a ward. 

READ MORE: Woman still alive following plunge into Waikato River at Cambridge

"Lots of praise goes to those members of the public and an off-duty police officer who were nearby when the car went into the water and went to assist both the driver and passenger in getting out of the water," Waikato police Senior Sergeant Phil Ruddell said.

A forensic photographer on Ferguson Bridge in the aftermath of the accident. The balloons were on the bridge for the ...
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A forensic photographer on Ferguson Bridge in the aftermath of the accident. The balloons were on the bridge for the annual Battle of the Bridges sport event.

"They were already out of the vehicle, but were in difficulty and needed help to get out of the river - we extend our thanks to those people."

The car appeared to have been heading north and went through the roundabout and over the edge near the low-level bridge at State Highway 1's intersection with Shakespeare Street. 

It plunged about 10 metres down the steep riverbank and into the water. The accident happened at 12.25pm on Saturday. 

The ute rapidly disappeared beneath the surface of the fast-flowing river by Ferguson Bridge.

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"We know they left the road, but as to why they left the road is still being investigated by the Serious Crash Unit."

By the time the first firefighters arrived, Cambridge fire chief Don Gerrand said the two people were being given medical attention on the banks of the river. 

The crew set up a rope system, running two lines to allow emergency services staff to shuttle up and down the 10m riverbank, he said.

"We set up two ropes and we lowered one of our Stokes basket stretchers down, which is what we brought the two people up on."

Three volunteer firefighters then assisted the three St John paramedics in performing CPR on the woman for the best part of an hour, he said. 

"Virtually three of my staff were rotating, performing CPR. She was then placed in the Stokes basket stretcher and pulled up with ropes.

"He [the driver] was mobile but understandably pretty visibly upset."

After an hour of CPR and significant medical help, police said the woman regained a pulse. 

"It was a good effort from the public initially and after that from St John and the fire brigade on CPR."

By then there was no sign of the vehicle, except for a small oil slick on the surface of the water, Gerrand said. 

Police had been in touch with the harbourmaster and a plan was being put in place to retrieve the submerged ute and boat trailer on Monday, Ruddell said. 

The harbourmaster would be examining the scene by boat, using sonar equipment to pinpoint the location of the vehicle, he said. 

"It can't be seen at this time and with the amount of water going through the river at the moment it may have moved."

Police were also looking to speak to any witnesses from the crash that may have left the scene, or had not yet spoken to police.

Anyone with information can call police on 07 858 6200. 

 - Stuff

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