7 Oct 2020

Narrow escape as tree crushes camper

12:26 pm on 7 October 2020

By Guy Williams of Otago Daily Times

A decision made only minutes before a tree crashed through the roof of a campervan near Kingston early yesterday saved a six-year-old boy from being crushed.

A tree toppled on to this campervan at a rest area near Kingston yesterday.

A tree toppled on to this campervan at a rest area near Kingston yesterday. Photo: Photo / ODT / Justin Wealleans

Justin Wealleans said he, his wife Ine and their sons Niko, 6, and Casey, 4, of Christchurch, were spending the night in the rental vehicle at a lakeside reserve just north of Kingston when the tree came down during violent winds about 2am.

A little earlier, unable to sleep because of the noise, he and his wife had got out of bed and were sitting in the front of the vehicle, debating whether to move to a more sheltered position, Wealleans said.

"It was full-on - it felt like the van was about to be picked up and rolled over."

A couple of minutes after getting Niko down from his bunk and returning to the driver's seat, he stood up again.

"The tree then fell through and smashed right on the seat, within seconds of me moving.

"If we hadn't got our son out of the top bunk, it would've hit him, too."

Fortunately the top bunk did not collapse far enough to endanger Casey sleeping below.

Wealleans said he forced the door open and banged on the door of another campervan, from where he called the police.

"The wind was that strong we could hardly walk, trees and branches were falling down, and the gravel was flying around and smashing into everything.

"The sound of the lake was unbelievable - the noise of it was so loud you could hardly hear yourself speak."

Four days into a 10-day trip around the South Island, the family had travelled from Te Anau the day before, joining about a dozen other campervans at the reserve.

Police drove the family to Queenstown, where they checked into a hotel.

"I haven't slept, I was that wired.

"I was lying there having visions of what would've happened if I hadn't picked up Niko, or if I'd been sitting in that seat for two seconds longer."

The rental company delivered a replacement vehicle yesterday, and the family intended to resume their trip today.

"I think we'll just take our time, and not park under any trees."

The galeforce winds also tore through part of the Queenstown suburb of Frankton, ripping roofing off homes and sheds, blowing in windows, damaging fences and bringing down trees and branches.