Three dead, toddler and baby cut free, after two-car crash on Southland highway
A couple who died in a head-on crash in Southland after attending a funeral were due to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
Samie Shortland, her husband Jesse Shortland, and the woman driving the other car died in the collision in Dipton on Sunday night.
The Shortlands' eight-month-old daughter Skylar and son Heath, 2, survived after being pulled from their car seats at the crash scene. The toddler had moderate injuries and the baby had minor injuries.
Jesse Shortland's aunt, former NZ First MP Ria Bond, confirmed her relatives had died in the collision. "I was meant to be in the car with them," said Bond, who had also attended Jesse Shortland's father's funeral in Hokitika.
Bond had decided to cancel her plane tickets home and drive down with her nephew's family, but she said the airport was closed so she had to wait.
"Our family are just devastated by the triple tragedy over the weekend ... we're pretty broken as a family right now," she said.
The cars collided head-on on the Dipton-Winton Highway near Ladbrook Rd about 9.40pm.
The Shortlands were due to celebrate their third wedding anniversary during the Labour Weekend.
Bond said she and her family were thankful for those who had helped the Shortlands' children at the scene of the crash, including Southland farmer Suzanne Harvey and a truck driver later identified as Andy Haywood.
'I COULD HEAR THE BABY CRYING'
Harvey, of Dipton, said she could hear Skylar Shortland crying as she approached the mangled car on Sunday night.
The Southland farmer had been watching television when she heard an "awful bang" from outside.
Harvey initially thought it was a rifle shot but, seeing the lights of vehicles stopped on the road, she realised it was a crash.
"I said to my husband, 'I'm going. There's been an accident'. So I grabbed my torch and I was off."
She described the scene as "horrendous".
On getting to the family's car, Harvey realised nothing could be done for the parents.
"You couldn't recognise the driver's side of the car," Harvey said.
"I could hear the baby crying ... it didn't look good, what was going on in the front seat."
Milk tanker driver Haywood already had the baby's 2-year-old brother in his arms, Harvey said.
Haywood said he talked to Heath Shortland to calm him down.
Harvey turned her attention to getting the baby out.
The crying girl looked physically OK, but Harvey was concerned about internal injuries as she comforted her.
Meanwhile Skylar Shortland's brother "cuddled" into Haywood, who said the boy was "frightened as hell".
Harvey sat in one of the firefighters' vehicles with the heater on and looked after the baby she handed her over to an ambulance crew.
"The first aid course I'd done was invaluable," Harvey said. "The best thing to do was just to keep calm and comfort the baby and not move [her] much."
'IT PLAYS ON MY MIND'
Haywood had pulled up to the crash scene on his way to do a pick-up.
He could not remember how long he was at the crash scene for, but continued to his pick-up after leaving the area.
On Monday, Haywood was trying to get some sleep for his next night shift, but he said it was "impossible".
"It's hard," he said. "It plays on my mind a bit."
A helicopter crew flew the children to Southland Hospital, where they were treated for their injuries.
They are being supported by relatives.
ROADS 'UNSAFE' PLACES
Southland road policing manager Senior Sergeant Jon Bisset said the crash was "horrific".
"It appears that the vehicles have collided head-on, but we're still at the really early stages of the investigation, we have to work through that," he said.
"We just want to say our condolences to the families who are involved."
The collision was a reminder roads were "unsafe" places, Bisset said. "We need to understand that risk and drive as cautiously as we can."
Bisset said the three deceased were aged in their 20s; a 28 year old man, and two women aged 22 and 28.
"Our staff find it as difficult as anyone else and we just need to make sure that we've got systems in place to support them as well, which we're going through at the moment," Bisset said.
The highway was closed most of the night while the police serious crash unit investigated. The road reopened just before 5am.
The site of the crash on State Highway 6 was expected to be closed temporarily with a short detour in place on Tuesday, as police planned to revisit the crash scene.