Pinned in an upside-down car, 30 metres down a steep bank, David Sharples feared the worst.
“Initially I couldn’t get out of my seatbelt so I panicked for about 30 seconds,” the Queenstown youth worker says of his August 25 ordeal, after a black ice-induced crash on Glenorchy Road.
“Whenever you see a crash on the TV the car always explodes. So I was quite keen to try and get out.”
He wriggled out of the belt and squeezed through a crumpled window frame, emerging from the “munted” Toyota Previa into dense bush.
The bush was a double-edged sword – it helped stop the vehicle from falling further but meant it was invisible from the road.
Sharples’ boss, Wakatipu Youth Trust team leader Jacqui Moir, who was driving, was trapped so the 30-year-old followed his instinct to scale the bank and get help.
Within minutes, he had flagged down a passing Nomad Safaris vehicle, which made the rescue call.
Using a rope thrown from the car, Sharples climbed back down to the vehicle to reassure the injured Moir, who was concussed and complaining of back pain.
Sharples, an Englishman from Warrington, says the predicament could have been a lot worse: no one saw the crash, the vehicle was invisible from the road and there was no mobile phone coverage.
“It’s incredibly lucky I was able to get out.”
His only injuries were mild whiplash and a scratched hand.
He adds: “If I had a broken leg or something then it would have been different.”
Moir, who was initially treated in Queenstown before being shifted to Invercargill and then Dunedin, is now recovering at home.
“Jacqui’s got a very positive attitude to life which she had before she had the accident and we’re witnessing it now,” trust chairman Joel Peasey says.
Sharples was back at work two days after the crash.
Peasey describes his charge as a “young hero”.
Sharples replies: “I just did what anyone else would do – that survival thing kicks in.”
Peasey says the loss of the van has hurt its ability to take youngsters to activities – although it has been lent vans on occasion, by the likes of NZONE and the Salvation Army.
The trust’s considering fundraising options.
A quirky twist in the crash tale is the porridge. There was about six litres of the stuff prepared for “porridge wars” at Glenorchy School that afternoon.
Sharples says the emergency services probably thought it was vomit: “It was everywhere. It was in the bushes, it was over us, it was in the car, it was over Jacqui – it was unbelievable.”