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State Highway 1 resident Greg Perry told the Manawatu Guardian the car and two trucks, all heading south, burst into flames when they concertinaed in a dramatic collision just after midnight.
"It instantly went up in flames. The flames were up to the power poles.
"I thought there might have been flammables onboard because I heard some loud explosions.''
Police said at least one person died in the crash.
Mr Perry, who lives next to where the accident happened on SH1 between Sanson and Foxton and was outside his house at the time of the accident, said both male truck drivers got out of their cabs after the collision and appeared to be uninjured, but the occupants of the car had no chance of survival.
"The people in the car would not have had a chance and no emergency services could have got to them.''
Mr Perry's friend James Petrowski called 111 and alerted the call taker to a major accident involving a collision between trucks and a car, asking for fire and ambulance to immediately respond.
Mr Perry said fire services were on the scene quickly but he estimated it took police and ambulance services 30 to 40 minutes to arrive.
The scene is currently strewn with charred debris and wreckage from the burnt vehicles. A chiller truck is being removed by a crane and loaded onto a transporter in two pieces. The burnt out Nissan was removed just before lunchtime.
A reporter at the scene said skidmarks were visible on the road and cashews and potatoes were also scattered across the scene. About a dozen emergency personnel and roading contractors were still working to clear the scene.
The road remains closed and diversions are in place.
Photo / Manawatu Guardian Photo / Manawatu Guardian
The owner of one of the trucks involved in the collision, Big Chill chief executive Michael Roberts, said regardless of who was at fault, fatal crashes were always traumatic for the driver.
"It is pretty tough. I understand he's physically fine, he's a good, experienced driver of ours.
"He's on his way back to Auckland now heading home and he'll have a few days off and then, all going well will be back at the job [at a later date]."
The Big Chill driver was travelling from Auckland to Wellington with a load of chilled and frozen food products when the crash occurred, Mr Roberts said.
Information from on-board GPS and footage from an on-board camera gave a good idea of how the crash occurred, Mr Roberts said.
"It's a pretty sad situation."
Early reports also indicated the collision, which also damaged the road, may have occurred while one of the vehicles was attempting to overtake.
"The serious crash unit is conducting a scene examination and the vehicles will be removed from the scene today for further analysis," police said.
Police spokeswoman Sara Stavropoulos said diversions will be in place until at least midday.
"I want to thank motorists for their understanding as we work to have the highway open as soon as possible. In the meantime I would ask that motorists take alternative routes and exercise caution on diversion routes," Mr Allan said.
- Teuila Fuatai and Alecia Rousseau of the Manawatu Guardian