Narrow escape . . . The tractor Raegan Matthews was driving after he crashed off the side of a bridge north of Gore last Tuesday. PHOTO: SANDY EGGLESTON

It was a job he used to love, but after it almost cost him his life, Raegan Matthews says he will not drive another tractor.

The Riversdale man was doing work for his employer last Tuesday, when the tractor he was driving clipped the side of the narrow Otamita Rd bridge, sending him over the side on to the bank of the Mataura River below, his family said.

After being flown to Dunedin Hospital with serious injuries, he was taken to Christchurch Hospital to undergo surgery on his back.

His mother, Robyn Johnston, said the surgery had gone well but he would be there for at least a couple of weeks while he recovered.

‘‘When he rang me [after the surgery], all he wanted was his partner.

‘‘He said to me, I love her so much and I can’t wait to see her and give her a kiss.’’

He was in good spirits but the incident had put him off driving tractors, which he used to love, Ms Johnston said.

‘‘I just can’t imagine what he went through and the emotion of it all. [He will] probably have to go get counselling because . . . he can just see the crash all the time in his head.

‘‘Raegan said to me that when the tractor started going over the bridge, he just looked straight down and thought ‘this is it’.’’

However, she knew it could have been so much worse.

‘‘He was very lucky that he had the accident where it happened, whereas it would have been a different story if he had landed in the river,’’ she said.

A local farmer was the first one on the scene and made the call to emergency services, she said.

‘‘We’re just grateful they did what they did for him.’’

While people had been very supportive, there had also been some negative comments on social media.

‘‘I’m just so angry at how people can write stuff that they do, not knowing the real truth about it all.’’

That particular bridge was very narrow and he was always a cautious person, she said.

‘‘He’s been over that bridge heaps of times and he’s very careful when it comes to him driving machinery.’’

A police spokesman said an investigation was under way and WorkSafe had been notified.

The Gore District Council said in a social media post that a reduced speed limit of 30kmh would be in place on the bridge until it was repaired.