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‘Freak’ slip

By Chelsea Boyle

[email protected]

Two drivers lost control of their cars on the Rimutaka Hill last weekend in what has been described as a “freak accident”, with one car flipping onto its roof.

Just before 6.30pm on Saturday, a landslide near the summit dumped a significant amount of dirt and rock over the road.

Gladstone resident Jim Kettle was coming home from work in the “pitch-black” when he hit the debris and watched as the car in front of him, a Holden Commodore, flipped.

“Instinctively I put my brakes on”, he said.

“I don’t remember a great deal because it happened so quickly.

“I just know that I sort of lost a bit of control of the car because I was going over all these rocks and boulders.”

The southbound lane was fully blocked with debris, while the northbound lane was strewn with rocks and boulders.

Some of the boulders were quite large, he said.

“There was one there that took four firemen to move it.”

As both cars went over the mess, none of the airbags in either car deployed.

“Whatever [the other driver] hit just flipped his car.”

Mr Kettle’s car came to a halt on three flat tyres.

He was surprised nobody was injured.

“There were only two vehicles involved — the guy in front of me, the fact that he had no injuries apart from a cut thumb getting out of the car, I just thought it was amazing.”

Because they were on a straight stretch of road, they were doing about 70-80km, he said.

“I travel that road four, five, times a week return so, I know the road pretty well.

“You don’t expect a slip on a dry day like that”.

Mr Kettle said he had spoken to the driver of the Commodore, who told him he saw the boulders but the next thing he knew he was on it.

“It’s pitch-black up there,” Mr Kettle said.

So even if you are the lead car, going along with your headlights on full, you could hardly spot the dark brown boulders, he said.

The Commodore driver had gone over to Upper Hutt 30 minutes prior to pick up a heater.

The state of the road on return “was a complete surprise to him”.

A couple heading southbound stopped immediately and alerted police to the accident.

The police were “really good” at the scene, Mr Kettle said, noting they even offered him a ride home.

The road was closed for about two hours.

Police, firemen and an ambulance attended the incident.

NZTA’s Wellington transport operations centre manager Roxanne Hilliard said that police notified them the slip was covering the road upon arrival.

Police closed the road to ensure emergency services could get through and to make sure everybody was safe, she said.

“Sometimes the safest thing is to shut all lanes”.

At about 9.30pm the slip was cleared and the road was reopened, she said.

“It was quite a significant slip and our contractors responded quickly, they took lots of machinery out there and just got it sorted out.

“We know that that’s an important road to people.”

They were still investigating what caused the slip.

“It is a road where weather conditions obviously play a significant part in what is happening,” she said.

She said it had been checked after the accident and was deemed safe for motorists to travel over.

“They did have an engineer go up and assess it and they are very comfortable that the slip has been cleared and that it is safe.”

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