It was a horrifying
scene - a terrified woman trapped on a railway line in an
electric wheelchair as a freight train ploughed towards her,
unable to stop.
The 22-year-old has cerebral palsy, is deaf and hasn't been
able to speak since childhood. She could do nothing to save
But two strangers were close by - Matthieu Mereau, 25, who
was on his way to work, and Marzena Simpson, 35, who'd just
left her car at a garage.
The pair's incredible rescue mission over the next few
moments has resulted in both being recognised with bravery
"There was no time to be scared," Mrs Simpson told the
Herald. "In a situation like that you just have to act.
You're scared afterwards. I was really scared afterward, but
not at the time."
The pair ran towards the level crossing on Morningside Drive
in the inner Auckland suburb of Kingsland to help.
They struggled to free the woman's wheelchair, but its rear
wheels were caught in the gap between the path and the
She was stuck in the middle of the tracks and directly in the
train's path so, in a final act of desperation, they tipped
the chair and all three fell forward - barely a second before
the train reached them.
The woman was dragged for a short distance. Her left leg was
seriously injured, and part of her foot had to be amputated.
Ms Simpson's knee was injured when the train struck her a
glancing blow in February's incident.
Mr Mereau has been awarded a silver medal by the Royal Humane
Society of New Zealand and received it this week in London,
where he is working as an architecture graduate.
Mrs Simpson will receive her award next year.
She told the Herald she saw Mr Mereau trying to push the
"He asked me for help and of course I stopped and tried - and
only a few seconds later the train was coming. It all
happened so fast."
The incident showed how life could change in an instant. Her
husband was supposed to drop the car off but she went in his
"Then they couldn't find my booking, so I was 10 minutes
longer. It was all luck I was there at the right time. It's
all those things you think of later. It was meant to be."
The woman's mother, who did not want to be identified, said
her family wanted the pair's bravery acknowledged.
"What they did was phenomenal. We specifically wanted some
form of recognition. What they did was hero status."
She thought their actions were a "reflection of how we want
society to behave".
"They did it instinctively. Here are these two people who
stepped up ... Everything can be so negative and there's
moaning and groaning and here are these people who did
Her daughter was recovering well.
"She's still having rehabilitation and there are some gaps.
But from what it could have been ... When I show people the
injuries they can't believe she is still alive."
She had returned to work and was trying to get back to
"She does have ongoing problems. We don't know what that
means long term but she is working hard and is determined."
She wants Mr Mereau and Ms Simpson to be honoured.
"They are the epitome of how you want society [and] how to
behave towards one another ... It's about people caring about
"Young people who without any thought to their own safety did
what they did. The more I learn about the accident it's still
inconceivable with the speed they did it and how they pushed
her wheelchair over. It's just amazing what they did."
After the accident Mr Mereau said it had been a "close
The train driver had told him he thought he'd "wiped all
three of us out".
- Andrew Koubaridis, New Zealand Herald