The bizarre episode ended with a 14-year-old girl having to hold the boot of the hearse open while her dad and the driver struggled to push the body back inside the vehicle.

The hearse had been about to move away from the junction when the corpse – which was strapped to a medical trolley and covered in a sheet – fell out of the back and into the road at about 1pm.

Motorists who witnessed the drama included Manase Fakapulia, who was in the car with his wife, Alisi, and their 14-year-old daughter, Lineti. Mrs Fakapulia told the New Zealand Herald that her husband had got out to help the driver pick up the body.

“It was scary but someone had to go out and help because it was blocking the traffic,” she said. “No one wanted to get out, I could tell. I said: ‘Babe, babe do you see what I see?’ and he just jumped out and helped lift it.

“They couldn’t push it in because the boot kept falling down. He tried to open up the door two times, maybe three times, but the door kept closing down….so my daughter walked out and opened up the boot.”

Mrs Fakapulia said the incident in Papatoetoe had left her husband shaken. “He’s been up all night the last two nights thinking about it – said he can’t sleep thinking about what happened,” she said.

Carina Zhang, of funeral directors Pacific Memorials, said the incident had been caused by a faulty latch on the boot. She added that the family of the deceased had been informed when the incident became public knowledge.

“It was a really bad accident, said Ms Zhang. “The driver involved was really shocked. The body was okay; nothing happened to it. It was really a very unfortunate accident. We do feel so bad.”