Burning car rescue: 'I didn't want this poor guy to die'

11:37 am on 10 January 2017

A group of strangers, including an off-duty policeman and a Shortland Street actor, are being hailed as heroes for pulling an injured man out of a burning car.

Pua Magasiva

Shortland Street actor Pua Magasiva among those who helped to rescue a man from a burning car. Photo: RNZ / NZ On Screen / Screenshot

The 28-year-old veered off the road and crashed into a tree as he drove on Hibiscus Coast Highway on Sunday.

Holidaymakers, an off-duty policeman and Shortland Street actor Pua Magasiva were among those who sprung into action.

Michael Williams, who was driving his campervan home from holiday, was the first on the scene after seeing the crash.

The driver of the car was unconscious, his chest pinned by the steering wheel and leg impaled by one of the car pedals.

Mr Williams' first aid training kicked in. He checked for a pulse.

As he was tried to wake the man, the engine burst into flames.

"I was absolutely terrified. When I saw these flames licking up from under the bonnet, the bright orange flames, I thought 'oh my god this guy is still trapped in the car ... I better try and put this fire out'. I didn't want this poor guy to die, so I didn't have any regard for my own safety, just put the bloody fire out no matter what."

Mr Williams ran to his campervan to get a fire extinguisher, before five others - Mr Magasiva, Steve Strongman, Joe Parsons, Craig Watson, and an off-duty policeman - joined to help.

Mr Williams tried using the extinguisher then ran back and forth with water from his campervan to beat the flames.

Mr Strongman said that proved difficult.

"Obviously the heat from the motor onto the plastic or whatever was ignited again, so one guy undid the seatbelt from the passenger's side, three of us wrenched the steering wheel free of the guy, dragged him out and then carried him away," he said.

Mr Parsons said he could not stop thinking the car could explode any minute.

"The idea was once we got him out of the car to get him away just in case the car did go up [in flames] and get all the other cars back. There was quite a few parked really close, so we moved them just in case they did go bang."

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File photo: Police say the driver would have died without help. Photo: 123 RF

Craig Watson - who, like Mr Williams, was returning from a camping trip - used his sleeping bag to make the man comfortable while they waited for an ambulance.

He said everyone played a part.

"None of us knew each other's names, none of us knew what we did for a job, none of us knew anything about everyone, we just all jumped in where we could and weren't afraid to say, 'hey can you do this, can you do that, or don't do this, don't do that'. It was interesting to see how a small group like us could come together to help someone out."

The driver was taken to Auckland Hospital in a critical condition. He underwent surgery and was stable.

Acting Inspector Jason Homan said without the group's help, the driver would have died.

"They've shown extreme courage from climbing into a burning car to rescue the trapped driver. They put their lives on the line to save a stranger and to me they're all worthy of being called heroes. It's a pretty brave thing to do."

Mr Strongman disagreed.

"We aren't heroes. We're just Kiwis doing what Kiwis do best, helping their brothers. We didn't have time to sit down and shake hands and have a cigarette over coffee kind of thing, we just got on with it."