Five men leaving their kiwifruit packhouse jobs yesterday evening have been killed in a crash with an empty logging truck near Katikati, north of Tauranga.
They were turning right out of Dawson's Road onto State Highway 2 when their car was hit by a empty logging truck heading south.
The crash, just after 8pm yesterday outside the Aongatete Coolstore, closed State Highway 2 for four hours, and police and fire crews with heavy cutting gear attended the scene.
The affected section of SH2 is now reopened.
Fire Service shift commander Paul Radden said it is not yet clear what caused the crash.
"Upon arrival the brigade found persons trapped in the vehicle. Tragically the fatalities are from the car."
Mr Radden said it is a relatively straight stretch of road, and police said the truck driver was distraught, but not injured in the crash.
Sawmill operator Kevin Ward lives nearby and his partner had just finished her shift working with the men who died.
All were Tongans; four of them from the islands.
"She just walked in the door and we heard a big bang.
"So I went out there and the car was pushed onto the opposite side of the road, up onto the bank, and there was nobody moving in the car."
Mr Ward said the men were pulling out from Dawson's Road to head north when the truck hit the driver's side.
The coolstore operator, Allan Dawson, said they are now contacting all the men's families in New Zealand and Tonga, and giving support to his workers, some of who witnessed the crash.
"We're all just extremely distraught at the moment, we're all reeling."
He said there was a dip in the highway to the north which oncoming cars and trucks could appear out of "quite quickly".
He said his company would be providing financial support to the dead men's families.
The Serious Crash Unit and Commercial Vehicle Investigation Unit were at the scene.