New Zealand woman trapped in freezing car for 11 hours as 26 cars drove past saved just in time
Builders freed the woman from her car and covered her in jackets
A freezing woman who spent 11 hours in her car as it lay metres from State Highway 41 in New Zealand’s central North Island would have died from hypothermia if she had been left there for another hour, her rescuers were told.
The woman, in her 40s, was pale and cold and started shaking as the carpenters from Max Mackenzie Builders ran to her aid and covered her in their jackets to warm her up.
The group of Taumarunui builders were on their way to a building site in Omori near Taupo this morning when they spotted the Toyota Vivi from SH41 about 8am.
Site foreman Ricky Balloch said they pulled over to see what had happened to the crashed vehicle and had honestly expected to find a dead person.
As they wrestled through the toi tois to get to the car, which had rolled twice over a ditch, they yelled out to see if anyone was there.
The car had landed on the driver’s side and the front window was hanging off.
“We got close to the car and said, `Hello, is anyone there?’ and we heard this real faint ‘Help me’.”
When they saw the woman, who was in her 40s, she still had her seatbelt on but her left arm, which was not jammed against the door, had been broken so she was unable to use it to free herself.
“She was freezing, we got our jackets out of the van and piled as much on as we could. And just kept her calm really and called for help.”
He said given how cold she was, she was extremely coherent and able to communicate very well.
Balloch said they called 111 and ran to the car to find whatever they could to warm her up. Temperatures fell to about -4C on Sunday night as the woman sat and counted 26 cars drive past her in the dark.
”She was so grateful. She was unbelievably grateful. She couldn’t thank us enough.
“She said, ‘I thought no one would ever stop’ - because she had been there since 9pm at night.”
The men tried to comfort her while they waited and started unloading her car which was packed with kitset furniture she had been delivering to the Taumarunui Hospital, where she worked.
“We had tom boy going ripping stuff out of the car, kicking the front window out.”
They cleared the remaining glass from the broken front window so they could cover her in their jackets.
The woman had been to Hamilton that day to collect the furniture, dropping a friend off in Taupo before heading home to Taumarunui.
She told the men as they waited for help that her car had slipped on the ice.
“The road was shockingly frozen and she came around the corner and she was saying that she just touched the brakes and that was it, she started sliding.”
He said she was in pain and they heard she had a few internal injuries.
They were two hours late for work, but they were more worried about the woman than what time it was.
“She wasn’t shivering when we got there, but once we started warming her up with some coats and stuff it was like she was in shock. We got told later on today that she was only about an hour out of dying from hypothermia. She was severely hypothermic.”
The men had thought about her during the rest of the day and were keen to get in touch to see how she was.
Balloch said a logging truck driver had spotted the car before them but thought it had been dealt with. “But there wasn’t any tape around it, you see. That’s why we stopped, because it wasn’t taped off or anything like that.”
Boss Max Mackenzie said his workers had done their good deed for the day.
St John, Fire and Emergency and Greenlea Rescue Helicopter arrived at the scene and the woman was flown to Waikato Hospital.
A Greenlea Rescue Helicopter spokesman who attended the crash said the woman was ``bloody cold’‘ when they arrived. They used a thermal electric blanket to warm her up.
“She couldn’t keep warm. It was just what was what so she was stuck there. They had to cut her out so she couldn’t move at all and she was wet, but I would say that was just from the humidity and moisture in the air.
“She was really lovely. She spent the whole time apologising for being a nuisance. She was really cool.”
The car crashed in a “strange spot” between two corners and the bottom of the car was facing the road so it would have been difficult for cars to spot in the dark, he said.
A DHB spokeswoman said the woman was in a serious but stable condition tonight.