A rally driver trapped in his car as flames threatened was
saved by spectators.
Rotorua-based driver Dave West, 54, was racing in the Old
Coach Road Tarmac Sprint in Pukehina yesterday when he lost
control of his Toyota Corolla GT and slammed into a concrete
power pole, which fell into a large hedge and ignited a fire
His co-driver was able to free herself from the wreckage but
Mr West was trapped inside as the flames crept closer.
Bystanders, including Bay of Plenty Times motoring
editor Colin Smith, raced to his aid. They tied a rope to the
car and towed it away from the flames.
Mr Smith said Mr West was negotiating a hairpin bend in the
course when the crash took place.
"He came down here, dropped a wheel on the grass, it half
spun and he hit the concrete power pole."
The power pole fell into the hedge and sparks from the live
wires started the fire, he said.
"The fire in the hedge was quite intense."
It took firefighters an hour and a half to free the man from
the wreckage of his car.
Te Puke Constable Kurt Waugh said it appeared the car's
brakes locked up, causing it to leave the road. The front
driver's side of the car collided with the power pole
trapping the driver by the legs, he said.
Rally organisers stopped the race after the crash.
Pukehina fire chief Errol Watts said the car had come over
the hill at about 180kmh but was slowing down when the crash
"There was some braking when he hit the pole but he
absolutely demolished the pole and the frame on the car was
extremely strong and it just bowed in. He must have been
doing a fair rate of knots when he hit it," he said.
Mr Watts praised the actions of the rescuers.
"He started to have some light blistering. Much longer and he
would've been [in trouble]," he said. "He was extensively
trapped. It was a rally car so all the extra reinforcing made
it harder to get him out."
Once freed, Mr West - who was conscious throughout the ordeal
- was treated, driven to the BayTrust Rescue Helicopter that
was parked in a nearby field and flown to Rotorua Hospital
with fractured legs.
It was also a close call for two spectators who were sitting
about 2m away from the power pole, Mr Watts said. The charred
remains of their chairs could be seen beside the blackened
Nearby residents Warrick and Melissa Mortensen knew there had
been a crash when the power went out as they were having
lunch at home.
They came out to see what was going on and found the crash
had taken place exactly where they and their young baby had
been watching from earlier in the day.
"There was fire in the sky and everything," Mr Mortensen
Motorsport New Zealand general manager Brian Budd said the
driver was still in hospital with broken bones but his
injuries were not believed to be life threatening.
He expected to receive a full report from the club that
organised the event tomorrow.
"It is motor racing and it does happen," he said.