'She's going to jump': Waikato truckie on the heroic act that saved a woman's life

Warning: This article discusses suicide.

The winner of the Hero Truck Driver of the Year Award has opened up about the day he saved a young woman's life.

Phil Newton has been driving milk tankers for six years, and it's a job he loves.

"No two days are the same," he told The Project. But there's one day that will stay with him forever.

While driving across the Arapuni Dam deep in the Waikato, he saw a woman sitting on the edge of the cliff. Immediately, he knew something was wrong.

"I saw her sitting there, and my first thought was, 'She is going to jump'."

The bridge over the dam is a reception deadzone. Mr Newton had to keep traveling before he could contact his dispatch operator and raise the alarm.

Making a U-turn on a country road in a double-barrel milk tanker is not an easy move, and it took him a good five minutes after contacting the dispatcher before he could make it back to the dam.

"I was just hoping she'd still be there, and she was."

He parked his truck and got out, with no idea if the police were on their way.

"She looked back at me when I got her attention and she had tears streaming down her face. I knew straight away, this girl's not in a good spot."

The woman would have had to make her way through a tall fence to get where she was, indicating she planned what she was going to do.

"I said 'I'm coming through, is that okay?' And she sort of nodded. I sat there and I said 'Look, I'm not going to grab you, I'm not going to do anything like that. I'm just going to sit here.'

"I said, 'What's wrong?' and I got her talking."

Mr Newton stayed talking and listening to the young woman for 15 minutes, not knowing when help would arrive, not knowing whether his words would be enough.

"It's a long way down," he says. "If she decided to jump with me attached to her, I wouldn't have been able to help it."

When police arrived to take control, he had lost track of time.

"I was shaking, I was shaking like a leaf - just the adrenaline going. Making the difference that day was incredible."

On Wednesday night in Dunedin, he received the Truck Driver Hero Award in recognition of the life he helped save.

The experience restored his belief that we have a duty of care for others in need - even total strangers.

"What I came away with the most was that if I could sit there and get her talking and just sit there and listen to her, and I was called a hero for doing that, then we've all got it in us to be heroes."

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