Passersby who pulled the driver out the window of his badly damaged car at Pamapuria yesterday morning might well have saved his life according to Fire Service spokesman Colin Kitchen.
"Normally we say people should leave anyone who might be injured where they are until emergency services arrive, but in this situation they did the right thing," he said.
The man, believed to be around 60 and the sole occupant of his car, was flown to Whangarei Hospital aboard the rescue helicopter with what were believed to be serious leg injuries.
The car, which ended up in the roadside ditch just a few metres from the point of impact, burst into flames. The same passersby who pulled him to safety were understood to have doused the flames with a fire extinguisher.
The Serious Crash Unit from Whangarei was examining the crash scene yesterday, the vehicles apparently colliding on or near the centre line, both suffering extensive damage about the front right corner.
The truck driver, who was shaken but not hurt said he had seen the car overcorrect "quite aggressively" immediately before impact, Mr Kitchen saying it was possible that the driver had fallen asleep.
The truck continued south for some 50 metres, in the drain, the driver saying he was surprised that it had remained on its wheels.
Debris from both vehicles was scattered over more than 50 metres of highway, the truck losing its diesel tank. Mr Kitchen estimated that some 400 litres was spilled, along with oil and transmission fluid, before a Fulton Hogan crew laid sand and the highway was finally reopened, more than two hours after the crash. (Traffic was diverted via Ruaroa and Takahue roads).
Kaitaia Fire Brigade station officer Ross Beddows said the fact that the car's engine block was thrown 10 metres gave a good indication of the force of the impact. Firefighters had investigated after noticing a gouge in the bank, some flattened grass and three broken fence wires.
"It neatly bisected two large tree trunks before landing in long grass another three metres away," Mr Beddows said.
"You don't need much imagination to understand what would have happened to anyone unlucky enough to have been in its path."