Driver survives after taxi swept away

A taxi driver feels lucky to have escaped death after his taxi was swept away by the swollen Silver Stream, near Dunedin.

George Kennedy (71), of Southern Taxis, said he was driving alone to Dunedin International Airport on Thursday when he attempted to cross a ford on Gladfield Rd, which he had crossed many times before.

He noticed there was more water than usual in the ford when he approached it about 5pm and applied the brakes, but the car skidded into the stream.

As it was pushed along, the water rose inside the vehicle and he used his cellphone to ring his supervisor back in Dunedin, just managing to tell him what was happening before the phone cut out.

Still being swept at speed down the stream, he tried the front doors and windows to no avail.''

It was filling up with water and I didn't know what I was going to do. I honestly thought I was going to drown.''

As the car's nose sank deeper, he scrambled into the back.

The doors there didn't work either, but ''fortunately'' one of the electric windows did, and he was able to get it down and get himself out.

About 300m from where it went in, the car sank until the only thing still visible above the water was the taxi sign.

But the drama was not over. Mr Kennedy was then swept another 100m downstream.

''You couldn't imagine the power of it. The river just kept taking me.''

He managed to get himself to the bank, which offered little to grasp on to, and clung to grass for about 15 minutes until he could get enough purchase to drag himself out of the water.

He ran along the road about 500m to the nearest farmhouse to call for help, although his employer arrived just as he reached it.

Back at work yesterday, Mr Kennedy, who has been driving taxis for 13 years, could not believe his good fortune.

''I was just lucky I got out. If I couldn't have got out, I wouldn't have survived.''

There had been no time as it was happening to really think about anything, he said.

''It was that quick, you couldn't think about what you were doing or how you were doing it. I've never struck anything like that in my life.''

In hindsight, he said he should not have gone that way after the previous days' heavy rain, but he had not realised how deep or strong the stream was. If he had been carrying passengers, he would not have gone that way, he said.

His employer, Southern Taxis owner Ron Grant, said he was just glad Mr Kennedy was safe. The taxi would be written off, but was insured, he said. It would be retrieved from the stream when the flow receded.

A four-wheel-drive vehicle was stuck in the ford when the Otago Daily Times visited yesterday to photograph the taxi.

Dunedin City Council roading maintenance engineer Peter Standring said he would have the crossing checked, but drivers needed to heed any signs and exercise caution when crossing fords during or after heavy rain.

- debbie.porteous@odt.co.nz

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