A TEAM of detectives is investigating the moments before a stolen ute that was being chased by police ploughed head-on into an oncoming truck, south of Uralla.
The fiery crash occurred within a minute of police calling a pursuit of a stolen ute that was headed south on the New England Highway, between Uralla and Bendemeer, just before 9am on Thursday.
The driver of the ute was killed instantly when it smashed into the north-bound StarTrack truck, which erupted in flames, about 50km from Tamworth.
It’s understood the force of the crash sent the stolen ute careering out of control, hitting the police car that was attempting to pull it over.
Fairfax Media has been told the policeman, who is attached to the dog squad based in Tamworth, then pulled the 68-year-old truck driver to safety and tried to save the ute driver.
Moments later the trailer of the truck caught fire and spread to nearby grassland, sparking a bushfire that quickly spread, before it was contained and extinguished.
Witnesses also said the policeman collapsed from shock at the scene of the horrific crash.
“I heard the call on the two-way and looked ahead and saw the smoke from round the corner,” a witness who did not want to be named told Fairfax Media.
“I walked up and saw the ute and cop car and the StarTrack B-double round the corner in flames and the bush going up as well.
You could tell by the damage to the ute no one survived. The poor cop broke down when the other cops showed up.Witness at the scene
“You could tell by the damage to the ute no one survived.
“The poor cop broke down when the other cops showed up.”
The truck driver, believed to be based in Tamworth, suffered minor injuries.
He was treated by paramedics and taken to Tamworth hospital for mandatory blood and urine testing.
Police confirmed the ute was stolen, and while the driver was yet to be formally identified, investigators believe he is aged in his late twenties and from interstate.
The fiery crash blocked the New England Highway for most of the day and forced motorists to be diverted through Walcha via the Thunderbolts Way and Oxley Highway.
The death occurred during a police operation meaning a critical incident was declared by senior police and a crime scene set up.
An independent team of investigators from a separate command were called in to probe the crash and the actions of police.
New England detectives are leading the crash investigation and spent hours examining the scene on Thursday.
Detectives were also tasked to Tamworth to interview the truck driver, the police officer and other witnesses travelling on the highway at the time.
Specialist crash investigators were also flown from Sydney to piece together the collision and examine the wreckages at the scene.
Fairfax Media understands the officer intercepted the stolen ute south of Uralla, after an earlier report of a fail-to-pay for goods in Armidale.
The message was circulated to police before the dog squad, which was headed north at the time towards Armidale, spotted the stolen ute travelling south.
It’s then believed he tried to pull the ute over but when it failed to stop for police, a pursuit was initiated. Extra back-up was called before the horrific crash, moments later, near the intersection of Green Valley Rd.
The two police dogs, who were in cages in the back of the police vehicle, were not believed to be injured and were taken from the scene by other officers who were called from Tamworth.
Late on Thursday, Fairfax Media was told the truck driver had been released from hospital, and his employer “was offering him all the support he needs”.
The critical incident investigation is expected to take some months and detectives will prepare a report for the coroner.
The driver of a stolen ute has died after a fiery head-on crash and independent police will now lead a formal investigation into the incident, after it occurred during a police operation.
A critical incident investigation will examine the crash which involved the Police Dog Squad, who are based in Tamworth, who initiated a pursuit of the stolen vehicle.
The stolen ute ploughed head-on into an on-coming truck near the intersection of Green Valley Rd.
The driver of the ute died at the scene.
The truck driver, whose load and cabin burst into flames, suffered minor injuries and has been taken to hospital for mandatory tests.
The police officer and his two police dogs were not physically injured, it’s understood.
Critical incident investigators, who have been deployed from the New England Criminal Investigation Unit, will examine the moments before the ute crashed head-on into the truck.
Firefighters from the RFS and Fire and Rescue NSW have been trying to extinguish the truck blaze, as well as a nearby grassfire which was sparked by the crash.
The highway is expected to remain closed for much of the day.
More to come.
THE New England Highway is blocked in both directions after a horrific crash involving a truck, a car and a police vehicle.
The crash happened about 8.45am just south of Uralla near the intersection of Green Valley Rd, about 50km north of Tamworth.
It’s understood one person was pulled from the truck, which burst into flames.
It’s not known if anyone else was injured.
Several police are on scene and fire crews as well as the SES have been deployed to the scene to extinguish the blaze.
It’s understood one police officer was in the police vehicle.
ARMIDALE: New England Hwy closed near Green Valley Rd due to a serious car and truck crash. Avoid the area.— Live Traffic NSW (@LiveTrafficNSW) August 30, 2017
Police have blocked the highway at Uralla and at Bendemeer with motorists diverted through Walcha along the Oxley Highway and Thunderbolts Way.
More to come.