Trapped injured and alone in a mangled car with no cell reception and hidden from plain sight, Gregg Shaw’s first words when he was eventually found were: ‘Thank God somebody showed up’.
Gregg was rescued by family 56 hours after going missing between Tauranga and Gisborne on Christmas Day.
The 67-year-old was found by his niece who was part of a family search party when she spotted “something shiny” on the side of State Highway 2 near Matawai, about an hour north of Gisborne.
The anomaly was the roof of Gregg’s brown Mazda Atenza – the same car police had previously shared photos of in a plea for sightings following his concerning disappearance.
Gregg crashed off the side of the road while travelling to his sister’s Gisborne home. He left Pāpāmoa at 5.30am that day but never arrived at his destination.
Instead, he spent “56 hours in a hole”, Gregg’s brother David Shaw said.
David and other family members spent the days following Gregg’s disappearance scouring through the Waioeka Gorge and the State Highway 2 roadside.
Meanwhile, Gregg sat stuck in a culvert less than a metre from the highway with just some of the top of his car visible.
“Gregg could still hear cars going past,” David said.
David said his brother sent a text after the crash “but it went nowhere” due to a lack of reception. Later, Gregg placed a flashing light on top of his car in the hope that someone would see it but no one did.
David funded a helicopter search of the gorge in an effort to find his missing brother but to no avail. As the exhausted family approached the end of Sunday, David and Gregg’s niece and her partner chose to look again when they “just saw this shiny thing on the side of the road”.
As his niece approached the wrecked car and found her battered uncle inside, he told her “thank God somebody showed up”, David said.
“He was so relieved.”
Firefighters scrambled down the bank and cut the roof off the car to get to him.
The section of SH2 between Cemetery Rd and Rakauroa Rd was closed to allow the Lowe Corporation Rescue Helicopter from Hawke’s Bay to land and take Gregg to Gisborne Hospital, where he was yesterday recovering, in a stable condition.
David said police told the family it was incredibly fortunate Gregg was found given the hidden location of the car. Surrounding vegetation could have also hampered searches from air, he said.
The family were grateful for the efforts of police and other emergency services who helped, David said.
“I know now what people go through [when a loved one goes missing]. The police have been amazing, really good.”
David said he’d like to see all cars with a GSP device like an EPIRB that activates in a crash.
Brother Michael Shaw said he remembered hearing Gregg leave the Pāpāmoa home they share about 5.30am on Christmas Day.
Michael then went back to sleep. It wasn’t until hours later he saw that he had missed calls from their sister.
“I thought ‘holy hell, she’s probably calling to wish me a merry Christmas and all of that’. But they had been trying to get a hold of me because Gregg hadn’t turned up. They had already come through the gorge looking for him.”
Michael’s mind went to some dark places.
“Let me tell you, it never seems a very long time when it’s someone else but 24 hours when your brother is missing, in a car somewhere, possibly sinking or upside down, it’s an important period of time when a person needs help.
“I was very worried. With the first day I’m thinking ‘where the hell is he?’ He hadn’t been found. I started having these ‘what the hell’ scenarios play out in my head, like that he’s been hijacked at a service station by a bunch of young thugs. It’s not out of the question. And that gets into your head.
“I was still expecting that he’d be found but that he’d be dead. Three days, what happens in three days?
“In the States, people go for drives on Christmas Day and go off the road, and you don’t find them at all until the thaw.”
Michael said he was incredibly relieved Gregg was okay and he looked forward to seeing his brother again. As a Christmas Eve baby, Gregg had just had his birthday the day before he went missing.
Michael admitted his phone was unreliable and he has not been able to speak with the rest of the family since Gregg was found.
Police first received a report about Gregg’s disappearance at 12.40pm on Christmas Day and a formal report was made at 8pm that night. The next morning police released his name and photo, with family permission, to help track him down.
A police spokeswoman said police polled for Gregg’s phone but could not find any results to indicate the phone’s location.
“Police made an assessment early on that Gregg’s disappearance was a matter of grave concern, as it was out of character, Gregg has some health concerns, and there were significant ‘dead spots’ for cellphone coverage on the route.”
CCTV footage, bank and phone activity were all assessed in the effort to find Gregg.
The spokeswoman said CCTV footage showed Gregg’s car leaving Tauranga, and driving through Edgecumbe, Taneatua and Ōpōtiki.
On Sunday, police also used a helicopter and plane to search the gorge and Matawai to Gisborne route and another request was made for further polling of his phone. At 4pm, police were notified he had been found trapped in his vehicle.
A police spokeswoman confirmed Gregg was injured but was “okay” when discovered.
“Police would like to thank all those who assisted with our inquiries and got in touch with information during the search for the man.”
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