Whitebaiter recounts Turnbull River tragedy
Survival techniques learned from years of tramping, hunting and climbing saved a 75-year-old Wanaka man from drowning after the vehicle in which he was a passenger plunged into the Turnbull River.
Wade Briscoe and his friend, Ian Horrax, 68, were returning to their whitebait stand 15 kilometres south of Haast when the vehicle Mr Horrax was driving suddenly left a four-wheel-drive track, crashed over a 6-metre bank and into the river about 7.30pm on Monday.
Mr Briscoe said Mr Horrax was driving slowly through the rough terrain when "all of a sudden the car was doing 7000 revs and the motor was screaming".
Mr Briscoe remembers the car just missing a tree but has no recollection of it going over the bank. "We must have flown."
His whitebaiting mate, who may have suffered a medical event before the crash, was sitting upright but was making no sounds and was not communicating.
"I felt a trickle of water at my ankles. All of a sudden it was at my knees and then my waist."
He was able to climb out a window, but not before the car was submerged. "Luckily, the electrics were still functioning. I wouldn't have got out otherwise," he said.
Survival skills learnt from years of being in the outdoors helped him not to panic. However, Mr Horrax was unable to get out.
The men shared two wind-up stands with three others and a hut that was "our haven in the bush".
The pair had gone whitebaiting about five times this season and about three weeks ago pulled in 60 kilograms of whitebait.
They were returning to their spot after visiting friends at another stand when the accident happened. "We had a marvellous day. I'm glad we had a rich season," Mr Briscoe said.
Mr Horrax was a keen fisherman and had been living in Wanaka for about 20 years.
Before that, he lived in Invercargill and worked as a solicitor. Mr Briscoe said he was an "outstanding man" who loved to teach people how to fly fish.
The cause of the crash is under investigation.
Che Baker 14/11/2013 THE PRESS.