A Queenstown restaurateur has told of the terrifying moment a massive tree crushed his car while he sped away from a “tornado”.
Mark Jessop, 53, believes he and his two passengers are lucky to be alive after wild winds battered Queenstown on Monday.
Jessop, who owns Tatler and Prime restaurants, was driving across Edith Cavell bridge over the Shotover River at Arthurs Point when he saw what he describes as a tornado racing towards them.
The longtime local accelerated but as they reached the other side the 130kmh gusts brought a 40m tree down on top of them.
“There was this almighty crash,” Jessop says.
“The wind was so strong it just snapped the 40m tree halfway up. It wasn’t a dead tree or anything, but it just snapped in two.
“It came down on the bonnet, roof and boot, smashing the windscreen and rear window.
“It was pretty scary. It just enveloped the whole car. We managed to get out and had to run like hell because it looked like other trees were about to come down.”
Jessop was about a quarter of the way across the bridge, near the Shotover Jet boat centre, when the gusts picked up.
“A huge sort of tornado came down the gorge,” he says.
“It was a massive circular vortex; a whole lot of water and stones and gravel and all sorts of stuff getting thrown up.
“I was worried it was going to tip the car off the bridge if we were still on it.
“It was so strong. The girls were screaming. I put my foot down and got to the other side and thought ‘Thank God for that’. Then we were hit.”
Jessop and his two passengers Melissa Wakeman and Rhea Sparks, who work at Tatler in The Mall, escaped uninjured.
Jessop’s expensive Audi A8 saloon is now a write-off, suffering an estimated $20,000 of damage.
“I actually had a sleepless night on Monday after it happened
“It was a huge bang. We were lucky. The Audi has a single cast alloy body shell and is very torsionally strong.
“I think if we’d been in another car it would have just cut through it.”
Jessop’s close call comes just over two years after Russell Liggett, 50, was killed when a 20m poplar tree on Lower Shotover Road fell in high winds and landed on his Toyota Hilux cab.