A league cricketer on a working holiday in New Zealand told how he cheated death when the van he was in plunged off a bridge into the sea.

Ashley Donkersley, 23, of New Mill, was rescued from the freezing waters by a police officer.

His friend, who was driving the van, died and as the vehicle filled with water, Ashley feared he would die too.

Ashley, a former wicket-keeper for Armitage Bridge and Shelley, had been working as an electrician in Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty region on North Island for the last 11 months.

He went to New Zealand to play cricket along with another former Shelley player Pete Drysdale, whose brother is a New Zealand rower.

The New Zealand Herald reported how Ashley and colleague and friend Gregory Woledge were returning to their office at 6pm after a day’s work.

A car suddenly veered across the road and collided with their van on Maungatapu Bridge, causing it to plunge into the sea.

 

Ashley – whose dad is Richard and mum Yvonne, the recently-retired head teacher at Scholes Junior School – didn’t see what happened as he was looking down at his phone.

But he remembers the van leaving the bridge as it was knocked through the railings and then sinking as it plunged into the harbour.

Ashley said: “Certainly in those first couple of minutes when I was underwater in the van I thought ‘this is it’.

“Thoughts of family and other memories raced through my mind, but then adrenalin just took over and I managed somehow to bend open the door.”

Mr Woledge died in the van and his body was recovered the following day.

Ashley declined to speak about what happened to Mr Woledge out of respect for his family and partner who is pregnant with the couple’s second child.

Ashley managed to escape the van. One man dived in but was unable to reach him.

Shortly afterwards police constable Deane O’Connor arrived on the scene.

The 53-year-old father-of-four stripped to his underwear and jumped in.

Ashley disappeared but resurfaced as the officer grabbed hold of him and turned him on his back as they were carried away by the current.

Ashley said: “I was whinging about how cold the water was and how the boat was taking ages to get to us.

“He (the officer) was very relaxed and just kept talking to me and making jokes. I never felt in any danger.”

 

After about half-an-hour in the water, Pc O’Connor managed to guide them towards rescuers’ flashing lights on a beach 100m away from the crash site.

They staggered ashore, cold and exhausted and Ashley said: “I was hypothermic, kept getting cramp, and couldn’t walk.

“It was a fireman I believe who managed eventually to get me to the road to be taken to hospital.”

Ashley praised the police officer.

“He definitely saved my life,” he said.

He didn’t know his rescuer was a policeman until they were in hospital.

“I know he doesn’t want any praise, but I do want to say how grateful I am to him for what he did,” said Ashley.

“I will definitely be staying in touch with him.

“I also want to acknowledge all of the support that I’ve been given by family and friends in England, New Zealand and Australia.”

Tauranga police are continuing to investigate the incident, which happened on August 12.