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Man’s ‘miracle’ survival after 4WD was swept off flooded Otago crossing

New ZealandUpdated 13 Jul, 2022 06:21 PM4 minutes to read Dave Warren near the site where a person was trapped in a...

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Dave Warren near the site where a person was trapped in a 4WD after a failed attempt to cross a Silver Stream ford at Whare Flat. Photo / Peter McIntosh

A “miracle” escapee of a four-wheel-drive tragedy, desperate for help, waded through swollen creeks and turned up on a North Taieri doorstep shaken and soaked.

Police were called just after 9pm on Tuesday after a vehicle was swept away while attempting to cross a ford at Silver Stream near Silverstream Valley Rd, and a body was recovered yesterday morning.

Two occupants of the vehicle escaped from the 4WD tumbling along in the torrent.

The death happened as storms started lashing the South, producing torrential rain.

The scene of an accident where one person died after a vehicle was swept off a ford into the Silver Stream at Whare Flat. Photo / Gregor Richardson
The scene of an accident where one person died after a vehicle was swept off a ford into the Silver Stream at Whare Flat. Photo / Gregor Richardson

One man showed up at Dave Warren’s home, drenched.

Warren and his wife, Barbara, brought him inside, called emergency services and warmed him up with dry clothes, a cup of tea and a blanket.

The swollen creek at Silver Stream is in the rugged North Taieri, west of Dunedin. Photo / Google Satellite
The swollen creek at Silver Stream is in the rugged North Taieri, west of Dunedin. Photo / Google Satellite

The man was in shock and it took a while to understand what had happened.

He described to them thinking he would die in the back seat, before managing to climb out a window in the front of the vehicle.

The other survivor was left beside the ford in shock and screaming while the first man went for help.

Warren said he understood there had been some debate whether or not those in the 4WD should go through the ford before the accident and they had seen no road-closed signs or markers.

Dave Warren said the survivor pulled himself from the vehicle and made it through two creeks as high as he'd ever seen them. Photo / Gregor Richardson
Dave Warren said the survivor pulled himself from the vehicle and made it through two creeks as high as he’d ever seen them. Photo / Gregor Richardson

It was a “miracle” the man made it to their home, as he walked through two creeks that were as high as he had ever seen them.

After a few hours, the man’s mother picked him up, he said.

For Warren, it was a sad case of history repeating itself.

His family had lived in the area for about 20 years and he could remember at least three deaths in the fords.

When a trio of trampers had gone through the area and one had been swept away, a survivor had knocked on their door after that incident as well.

It was upsetting to see four-wheel-drives still attempting to go through the fords yesterday after news of the death had broken, he said.

A lot of them did not respect the area or the power of the water.

“If the water’s up, keep away.

“It’s a killer.”

He believed more safety precautions were needed, such as gates over the fords and more signs.

Melanie Helm, who runs the nearby Waiora scout camp, said many drivers did not use common sense when going through the area.

She often saw people attempting to cross the ford when it was too high with a “she’ll be right” attitude.

It happened “all the time” and it was frustrating to see it happen every there was heavy rain.

“They just don’t have any respect for the rain.”

She had gone out to check the state of the ford 30 minutes before the accident and said there was no way she would have ever attempted to cross it.

Otago Regional Rescue Helicopter chief pilot Graeme Gale said the rescue team was facing “extremely tricky” conditions last night with the weather, poor visibility and low cloud.

A lot of people were involved and many manoeuvres were tried, including winching somebody down to the vehicle, but the outcome had been “dreadful” and unfortunate.

A Dunedin City Council spokesman said it closed the road proactively about 1pm on Tuesday, as it was expected conditions would become treacherous.

Signage was put in place on both sides of the road at either end of the fords which span Silverstream Valley and Flagstaff-Whare Flat Rds.

Police inquiries are continuing into the death.



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