26 Jan 2016

Poor driving seen before fatal plunge

6:45 pm on 26 January 2016

A crash which killed two Korean tourists on the West coast was "inevitable" given the way they were driving before their car plunged from a bridge, a coroner says.

The car which crashed into the Wanganui River on the West Coast is removed from the water.

The car which crashed into the Wanganui River on the West Coast is removed from the water. Photo: RNZ / Rachel Graham

Coroner David Crerar today released his finding into the December 2014 crash which claimed the lives of Kim Chil Young and his wife, Sung Young Mo.

In it he said the crash was "inevitable" and that their driving was so bad before the crash people had taken photos of it.

Mr Young was driving the rental car when it crashed through the barrier on a one-lane bridge, plunging 8m into the Wanganui River north of Harihari.

It took several days to retrieve the car because the river was in severe flood.

The couple had stepped off a 15-hour flight from Korea a day earlier and collected the rental car in Greymouth just three hours before the crash.

Mr Crerar said the deaths were another example of tourists needing to drive more responsibly.

Witnesses were so concerned at the "hesitant and jerky" manner the car was being driven in they photographed it, he said.

Witness Caleb Sjardin told police he and his wife stopped at a Lake Ianthe to "put some distance between us and the (red) car".

In one case, the car had driven so close to a rock wall it almost clipped it, Mr Sjardin said.

He and others told the police they saw the car veer left on to the grass verge several times.

A hearse carrying the bodies of two tourists leaves the Wanganui River bank.

A hearse carrying the couple's bodies leaves the Wanganui River bank. Photo: RNZ / Rachel Graham

Police senior crash inspector Simon Burbery concluded the driver may have been unfamiliar with the road and with driving a right-hand vehicle.

He said the driver may have been relying on road markings as a guide and on the approach to the bridge the centre guideline stopped, which could have caused momentary confusion.

Mr Crerar found the couple died when Mr Young lost control of the car when it clipped the side of the bridge. It then plunged into the river.

"Whatever the actual reason for the vehicle to move to the left and contact the kerbing, once it did so, at the speed at it was travelling, the outcomes were inevitable. The raised concrete captured the turning wheels and the wooden railing was not sufficiently strong to stop the vehicle crashing through it," Mr Crerar said.

Other commentators, including coroners, had already made suggestions about how to deal with the issue of tourist drivers and a taskforce at the Transport Agency is working on the issue.

The police investigation also concluded a steel rail on the bridge may have prevented the car from crashing into the river.

But the Transport Agency said while the bridge was one of several that would benefit from having improved guardrails installed, there were higher priorities on the West Coast.

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