PHOTOS/JADE CVETKOV

Campervan rolls into Henley Lake

HAYLEY GASTMEIER
hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz

It took a few seconds on Tuesday night to ruin an Aussie family’s visit to Masterton, but most of Wednesday to retrieve their sodden campervan from the middle of Henley Lake.

Hundreds of people visited the reserve throughout the day to catch a glimpse of the unusual sight, with media interest from all over the country and Australia.

The family, parents with four children aged from three to 16, had not long arrived in the town when their rented campervan ploughed through a wooden barrier and floated out on to the lake.

Senior Sergeant Mike Sutton said the mother had got out to stretch her legs, and the father, who was in the driver’s seat, was probably planning to do the same.

“Except they still had [the vehicle] in gear and didn’t have the brake on and it went forward into the lake with five people inside.

The campervan that was stranded on Henley Lake on Wednesday.

He said the family “stayed remarkably calm”.

Members of the public looked after the mother until police and emergency services arrived just after 8pm.

Firefighter Tony Gibbs waded out up to his shoulders, about 20 metres to the campervan, attaching a rope and staying with the family.

Masterton fire station officer Garry Nielsen said the children had been perched on the benchtops inside the van.

“The water got up to the dash level, so they were sitting above that,” he said.

“It floated out like a boat until the water started coming inside and it sank on to the lake bed.”

Then a waka ama, stored nearby, was used to float the father and children to safety.

“A little bit of local knowledge, combined with a bit of innovation, and we managed to get them out,” Nielsen said.

The family were checked over by ambulance staff at the scene. No one was taken to hospital.

Hundreds of people turned up to catch a glimpse of a rare sight.

“The kids were in really good spirits,” Sutton said.

“They were really calm considering the circumstances.”

The rescued family were taken back to Masterton Police Station to be warmed up.

They were found accommodation for the night, with the campervan company in charge of retrieving the vehicle on Wednesday.

At the misty lake Wednesday morning, a woman was making her usual daily visit to feed a one-winged swan.

“When we came down [Wednesday] morning we saw the wildlife sharing the lake with a campervan – it was a bit unique.”

At 1pm, Kurt Schwitzer, of Wai Tow, pulled on his waders and attempted to attach a winch to the van.

This proved to be unsuccessful, and he called Tim Emerson, from Masterton’s 02 Dive N Surf, to go under the murky water to hook a strap up to the differential.

Emerson stayed in the water for a couple of hours to help keep the line on.

Once the van was pulled to shore, the challenge wasn’t over.

The campervan being pulled back to land.

After the tow truck failed to pull the vehicle out of the water, it became clear a crane was needed.

Finally, just after 5pm the van was out and on the back of a truck.

Sutton said Auckland was the next stop for the family, who had been visiting from Melbourne.

Destination Wairarapa looked after the family on Wednesday, arranging meals for them, as well as their transport north.

Sutton said the family were flying home from Auckland on Saturday.

They declined to speak with media.

He said the vehicle would be assessed for any faults that might have contributed to the accident.

Greater Wellington Regional Council senior environment protection officer Edward Lee said the main concern was any oil or fuel leaks from the van, which there did not appear to be.