The driver of an ambulance injured in a fatal accident south of Cambridge has died.
The Cambridge Volunteer Fire Brigade was called out about 3.40am on Wednesday morning to a collision between an ambulance and a car on SH1 near Karapiro.
The driver of the car died at the scene, in a crash the brigade leader is calling the worst they have seen for some time.
The critically injured driver of the ambulance was airlifted to Waikato Hospital but police said in a statement after 5pm that they had died in hospital. Another ambulance staff member, who was inside the vehicle at the time, was moderately injured.
The ambulance had been heading south and the car was heading north. There were no patients in the ambulance.
The scene when daylight broke over the rural stretch of road was one of destruction. A silver Audi sedan lay in a pool of leaked coolant, the familiar shape of a St John ambulance nearby.
But instead of delivering aid, it lay with its engine all but disintegrated and wheels crumpled beneath the cab from the violence of the collision.
Cambridge fire chief Dennis Hunt said that when the crew saw emergency services were involved, they clicked into a different gear.
“We treat everybody the same but when you see an emergency vehicle you think ‘oh golly’. You hope everybody is OK.”
The brigade took two rescue trucks to the scene.
“There was one [person] trapped in each vehicle, so we extricated the person in the ambulance who was in a critical way and we made the scene safe.”
He said it was probably the worst accident they had been to this year.
“With the new [Cambridge section of the Waikato] expressway we don’t get the head-ons like we used to so they have slowed down big time.
“We had one out there last year and that was quite a major one. This is probably one of the worst we would have seen this year in our area.”
The road – barely 2 kilometres south of the end of the median barriers and 110kph signs of the expressway – features a series of gentle bends between straights.
The stretch of road, where traffic is again funnelled back on to a two-lane carriageway, was notorious for crashes, Hunt said.
“It has been known for years and years as a really bad area, we have a lot of accidents through that stretch. It is a huge area for us all the way from there to past the Mobil service station [2 kilometres away]”.
Hunt said it was raining when they attended the scene. There was a fair bit of traffic on the road and while it was normal for there to be a number of trucks, he said there were also a lot of cars for that time of day.
“We just feel sorry for all the families involved.”
The road remained closed between Cambridge and Karāpiro until after 2pm, causing long detours and queues.
An initial statement from police said a vehicle had crashed into the back of an ambulance but Highway Patrol Sergeant Matthew Crossan said at the scene that the two vehicles collided head-on.
“Our focus right now is to support our people and our thoughts are with them, their wider family and friends at this difficult time,” deputy chief executive of ambulance operations Dan Ohs said.
St John spokesperson Amy Milne said two ambulances, two rapid response vehicles, one clinical manager and one helicopter had responded to the crash.
One patient was airlifted to Waikato Hospital in a critical condition and another was taken to hospital in a moderate condition by ambulance.
At 7.50am, Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand Waikato spokesperson Andrew McAlley said one patient was in theatre in a serious condition and another patient was in a stable condition.
Waipā mayor Jim Mylchreest said there was a history of serious crashes at the intersections along that stretch, by the Mobil service station and the Piarere intersection, after the end of the Waikato Expressway.
”It is an absolutely shocking accident and my heart goes out to everyone involved.”