A lifeline on the 309

On the morning of Easter Sunday 2001, Owen Spooner drove an articulated truck down the 309 Road, transporting an 18-tonne load. The 22-kilometre gravel route winds its way atop cliffs and steep banks from Whitianga to Coromandel township.

“Trucks no longer use this road,” says Owen, “But at the time it was the most direct route.”

As he turned a left bend, he was met suddenly by a car approaching head on and “travelling way too fast”. He was forced to brake abruptly to avoid a collision.

“I stopped for probably four seconds. But then the back carriage began to slide and because I was on the edge of the road, the truck slipped off and rolled down the bank.”

It flipped one and a half times landing on its side.

On impact, the passenger door flung open and threw Owen out of the carriage. He landed just millimetres below the truck on the bank. As he came to, Owen remembers being unable to move.

The truck could slip further at any moment, crushing him in the process.

Luckily for him, a bystander who heard the crash came to see what happened.

“I remember him saying, ‘I’m sorry mate but I’m going to have to move you.’”

The fire brigade and St John responded first. One of the paramedics happened to be Owen’s friend.

His injuries were internal so, aside from slipping in and out of consciousness, he appeared deceptively well to those at the scene.

“I asked a bystander to call my wife. They rang her and told her I’d gone off the road, but I was fine, so my wife had no idea how serious it was until the Police showed up at our door.”

Owen recalls being loaded into the ambulance, then he blacked out. His next memory is being transferred into the helicopter.

Although unable to move, he doesn’t remember feeling pain. What concerned him was how difficult it was to breathe. “That was the scary thing.”

In hospital, he was diagnosed with a punctured lung, along with eight broken ribs, fractured vertebrae, concussion, and a torn knee tendon so bad that it pulled the bone with it.

Owen has no doubt that being transported to hospital by helicopter saved his life.

“With a punctured lung, I knew going along those windy roads would have killed me.”

Twelve months after the accident, Owen drove the route that almost took his life. He has a remarkably pragmatic and positive outlook. “Things turned out well for me,” he says.

Today, Owen enjoys his retirement with his wife and family.“I was very lucky to survive and also to not sustain any long-term injuries. I’m forever grateful.”