'I'm not much for the hero tag': Man who rescued stranger from burning wreck speaks

A NSW man who risked his life to pull an unconscious driver from a burning ute just moments before it erupted into a deadly fireball, has played down his deserved "hero" status.

Michael Van Baast was travelling between Cootamundra and Wallendbeen in the NSW Riverina at the weekend when he came across the horror crash.

Inside the ute was Jacob Prosser, 22, who was unconscious and had both legs trapped after smashing into a tree.

Michael Van Baast discovered the crashed ute on the Olympic Highway and rescued the trapped driver. Picture: 7 News
Michael Van Baast discovered the crashed ute on the Olympic Highway and rescued the trapped driver. Picture: 7 News

Unflinching in the face of danger, Mr Van Baast ran towards the burning vehicle before desperately working to pull the driver through a window as flames leapt towards him from under the bonnet.

For 11 tense minutes, he worked to free the young father, trying to find tools in the ute's tray to pry the door open before resorting to his bare hands.

He drew on all his strength to drag Mr Prosser to safety as the ute was engulfed in flames.

Wasting no time, he jumped into action, smashing the window to gain access to the injured 22 year old. Picture: 7 News
Wasting no time, he jumped into action, smashing the window to gain access to the injured 22 year old. Picture: 7 News

“I thought 'Nup, this is not going to end well' so I just decided to brute force him out,” Mr Van Baast told 7 News on Wednesday.

Inspector Mal Sutherland from Cootamundra police said his actions were commendable.

"He is a hero, most definitely. He has put his life at risk to save someone else's life.

"If he would have delayed his actions it would have been catastrophic," Inspector Sutherland said.

He has been hailed a hero for putting his life at risk to save the stranger. Picture: 7 News
He has been hailed a hero for putting his life at risk to save the stranger. Picture: 7 News

"He has done a tremendous amount of good."

Things could have been much different if Mr Van Baast hadn't acted with such bravery or had he arrived at the scene just moments later.

"He [Mr Prosser] has got to thank his lucky stars that brave gentleman was driving past."

Mr Van Baast not only saved Mr Prosser's life but spared first responders from arriving at a potentially traumatic scene.

The ute burst int flames 90 seconds after its driver was pulled to safety. Picture: 7 News
The ute burst int flames 90 seconds after its driver was pulled to safety. Picture: 7 News

Mr Prosser was flown to St George Hospital where he had surgery for a badly fractured leg, and burns.

His family has told Mr Van Baast how grateful they are and hoped he might receive a bravery award.

Despite this, the good Samaritan has brushed off the praises.

Rescued driver Jacob Prosser was flown to St George Hospital where he had surgery for a badly fractured leg, and burns. Picture: Supplied
Rescued driver Jacob Prosser was flown to St George Hospital where he had surgery for a badly fractured leg, and burns. Picture: Supplied

“I'm not a big fan of the 'hero' tag," he told 7 News.

"But I can appreciate that yeah, I saved someone's life and a mother's still got a son, and a child's still got a father.”

What caused the driver to lose control and crash into this tree at high speed is now under investigation.

Fatigue may have been factor, but police are also awaiting the results of blood and urine tests to see if he was affected by drugs or alcohol.

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