Banapa Avatea with his five-year-old son Jordan. Photo: NZ
A school principal prevented a likely fatal accident by
jumping into a 29-tonne truck veering across State Highway 1
after its driver had passed out at the wheel.
Banapa Avatea of Papakura held back two lanes of southbound
peak-hour traffic with his car for 8km on State Highway 1
between Auckland and Hamilton yesterday morning to prevent
other motorists being crushed by the out-of-control heavy
vehicle, which was carrying a digger.
Then he and another motorist managed to halt the wildly
veering truck as it crashed on the side of the road and Mr
Avatea helped to revive the diabetic driver.
Mr Avatea, who is head of Huntly West School, said the drama
began as he was making his daily commute to work - with his
5-year-old son Jordan in the back - about 7am.
"There was a truck in front of me and he appeared to be going
quite slow. Cars were overtaking him but then I saw he was
sliding to the right and collecting barriers.
"I thought to myself, 'That's not right', so I accelerated
and came up beside him so I could look into the cab. I saw
the driver was hunched over the wheel. It appeared he was
either asleep or had a heart attack."
The truck, which was travelling about 20km/h, was smashing
into barriers on either side of the road, "a bit like a
"I tried tooting but he wasn't responding. That's when I got
in behind him and followed him down towards Rangiriri."
Mr Avatea called 111, turned on his hazard lights and
headlights and drove in the middle of the two southbound
lanes to prevent other cars passing.
"I stayed behind him and spoke to the dispatcher, I think for
about 12 minutes, just letting her know where we were and
what was happening and basically just trying to keep the
traffic behind me," he said.
"There was heaps of traffic ... but I certainly wasn't
worrying about the people behind me, I was thinking about the
guy in the truck."
Eventually, as the truck neared Rangiriri, it crashed hard
into a barrier and slowed down.
"I got out of my car and a man two or three cars back came
out and we both opened the door to the cab. He applied his
hand to the [foot] brake and I jumped into the cab and pulled
up the handbrake and the truck was stopped."
Mr Avatea said the driver, who he suspected had been jolted
awake by the impact, was "very dazed and a bit spacey". He
initially suspected a heart attack but the man did not appear
to be having chest pains.
Having done a first-aid course, Mr Avatea asked the driver if
he was diabetic. "He said yes and then I looked in his bag,
found that he had a banana and gave it to him because I
wanted to get some sugars going. We gave him a muesli bar as
well ... and found he had insulin."
Mr Avatea did not have to inject the man because a paramedic
Not seeking plaudits for his actions, Mr Avatea left without
giving police his details and went to work.
He said he did not feel he had acted heroically. "The thing
is, we were just worried about the man in that truck and we
just really wanted to make sure he was okay.
"It's something we try to teach the kids in our school; to
look after each other and to look after our community and
that's all I was trying to do."
Waikato district road policing chief Inspector Freda Grace
said Mr Avatea prevented a potential tragedy.
"When you consider the risks posed to other motorists, let
alone to the roading contractors working on the road works at
Rangiriri, we could very easily have been dealing with a
tragedy," she said.
Police would look at ways of recognising the actions of Mr
Avatea and the other motorist who intervened.
The truck driver, thought to be in his early 30s, has been
working for Hiab Transport in Pukekohe for the past three
Director Craig Morris said the driver was initially taken to
"He was back here in my office about three hours after the
accident. He was as good as gold."
He was now waiting for clearance to return to work. He
remembered nothing other than hitting a barrier.
Mr Morris said the company had been aware of the man's
medical condition, for which he was required to get a medical
clearance every two years to hold a heavy traffic licence.