Officers were injured rushing over to help three teenagers trapped inside a fleeing vehicle when it burst into a ball of flame, police say.
Police said they had abandoned pursuit before the car hit some laid road spikes and crashed into a tree about 11.13pm, catching fire and killing the three occupants.
Superintendent John Price spoke to media about 1pm today, and said police rushed to the car to rescue those inside.
"Both officers went directly to the vehicle, they did their very best to remove the occupants from that vehicle but unfortunately they were unsuccessful," he said.
He said the officers were treated and are recovering at home.
The officers were devastated, he said.
"You can imagine - they were trying to stop someone from harming themselves or from harming other members of the public on our roads."
It had been seen speeding in the CBD, but the way it was being driven prompted police to stop the chase.
Police confirmed those who died were teenagers and confirmed the car - a white Mazda Familia - had been stolen from an address in Christchurch overnight.
He said their priority was to inform and support all next of kin until they were informed about the identity of the victims.
"As a police officer and a parent of children I am devastated by this needless loss."
"We do know that they were young people and were teenagers, and I do know that this is absolutely a tragedy. When we lose a young person in our community there are no winners."
He could not confirm the ages or identity of those who died, although they had a good idea of who they may be based on items found at the scene.
"It's got to be very thorough ... we want to make sure we've got that right. We've got families who are waiting to hear and we want to make sure it's done correctly.
He said the car was thought to be travelling about 135km/h and going through red lights when police began pursuing them.
He said the pursuit went up Moorhouse Ave for about a minute before police abandoned the chase.
"They subsequently relocated the vehicle driving down Blenheim Road.
"The vehicle has then left the road, it has hit a tree and the fuel tank has been dislodged, and as a result of that the tank ruptured and the ensuing fire has commenced. There has been a ball of fire - we know this from CCTV footage - and you can see the ensuing damage."
He said police faced a difficult challenge balancing the need to protect the public from dangerous driving while avoiding having drivers take even greater risks.