NZ Local News

Police confirm only two people dead in SH3 crash in Eltham, South Taranaki

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At least two people have died in a crash at the intersection of State Highway 3 and Mountain Rd, South Taranaki.

Only two people have died after a fiery South Taranaki crash this morning, where the disaster victim identification unit was called to search the wreckage for further bodies.

The collision on SH3 in Eltham, Taranaki at 5.50am left the stretch of highway closed for more than 11 hours as emergency services responded.

Police confirmed tonight that only two people were involved in the crash after earlier saying the number of occupants in one of the vehicles remained unclear.

“The Disaster Victim Identification Unit finished their assessment late this afternoon and found the drivers were the only people in the vehicles,” a spokesperson said.

“Our thoughts are with the victims’ families at this incredibly difficult time.”

State Highway 3 at Eltham has since reopened and an investigation by the Serious Crash Unit is ongoing.

A Taranaki farmer who drove past this morning’s deadly vehicle crash said the force caused one car to burst into flames while the other was flipped upside down on the other side of the road.

Peter Shearer told the Herald he drove past the crash on his way to work several hours after it happened and did not spend any time looking at the “morbid” site.

“There was a whole lot of debris spread out over the road,” Shearer said.

“One [car] had been burnt out and the other one was upside down on the other side of the road.”

Senior Sergeant Andrew Russ told 1News that police understand the northbound vehicle became engulfed in flames after crossing the centre line, colliding head-on with a southbound vehicle.

Police earlier said several people had died following the crash at the intersection of Mountain and Boylan Rds.

The senior sergeant at the scene, Andrew Russ, told RNZ there was one deceased person in each car.

He said police were still working on getting the victims’ bodies out of the cars, and would then be able to confirm there had been no further deaths.

South Taranaki Mayor Phil Nixon said his thoughts are “absolutely with the families” of those affected by today’s tragedy.

He said the community was “incredibly close-knit” and the crash will be felt throughout the whole area.

“My thoughts also go out to the emergency services who had to be on that horrific scene today,” Nixon said.

Today was meant to be an exciting today for the community, Nixon said, with most schools returning.

The road is also a major arterial route and this disruption will affect the community throughout the day.

Diversions were earlier in place at SH3 and Dalziell Rd for northbound traffic and SH3 and Rotokare Rd for southbound traffic.

Waka Kotahi NZTA Central said the road was expected to be closed for several more hours while an investigation by the serious crash unit is being completed.

“We would like to thank the public for their support as we work to respond to this tragedy and work to determine what happened,” a police spokesperson said.

A Fire and Emergency spokeswoman said one of the cars was engulfed in flames when emergency services arrived on the scene.

She described the fire as “well-involved” but said crews were able to extinguish it quickly.

A spokesperson for St John said it sent two ambulances to the scene after being notified at 5.50am.

An Eltham resident who worked at a local rest home said since locals know the area, most people were able to get to work on time this morning through the back roads.

She said this tragedy will be felt throughout their community and this is one of the “worst things to happen in a long time”.

Traffic management is in place at the scene and motorists are advised to avoid the area and use an alternative route.

Rachel Maher is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. She has worked for the Herald since 2022.

Benjamin Plummer is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. He has worked for the Herald since 2022.

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