26 Feb 2016

Milk tanker crash: 'I saw real black smoke billowing'

1:30 pm on 26 February 2016

The owner of a Patea service station says a crash that killed three people has shocked the south Taranaki town.

The accident happened in the main street at about 4.15 yesterday afternoon when a milk tanker hit a car that was backing out of a driveway.

Fire engine north of Gisborne.

Both vehicles involved in the crash caught fire. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Michelle Bishop, who owns the nearby BP service station, said she was 800m to one kilometre away but the crash made such a noise that she heard it from inside, where she was working.

"I heard a bit of a bang and then our power surged," she said.

"I went and turned off the pumps and went out and had a look and I saw real black smoke billowing and big, massive flames.

"It was pretty scary."

She said the crash had shaken Patea.

"It's just horrific to happen in a small town, well anywhere, but in a small town where everyone knows everyone it's horrible."

John Whitley, who lives about 100m from the crash site, said the tanker was travelling south when it crashed into a power pole and a parked car before it came to a stop in the middle of the road.

Mr Whitley said one person had got out of the car just before the crash and survived.

The tanker driver was taken to hospital and treated for minor injuries.

Both vehicles caught fire.

Cause still a mystery

Police have been unable to confirm whether the car was stationary or backing out of a driveway when the crash happened.

Mr Whitley was one of the first on the scene and believes the car was parked when it was hit.

"I presume that he hit the power pole first, and then the tanker was out of control and it hit part of the vehicle before it came to a stop in the middle of the road."

Mr Whitely said emergency service personnel told him the driver had been distracted by a wasp that had flown into the cab, and possibly stung him.

But Kyle Davie of the Hawera police said the cause hadn't been determined.

"It's far too early to say exactly what caused it.

"We need to finish all our scene examinations, examinations of the vehicle, the truck and we need to speak to all the witnesses so we can't say what direction the vehicle was in."

Fonterra spokesman Rob Spurway said the company's thoughts were with the families affected by the accident.

"We are providing support to our driver and his family, and will work with the police as they investigate the cause of the crash."

Police said an investigation was in its early stages and aksed witnesses to contact their local police station.

The names of the three people killed will be released once family members have been notified.