4 Aug 2016

Bodies of five crash victims released to families

6:30 pm on 4 August 2016

The bodies of five Tongan men killed in the Bay of Plenty earlier this week have been released back to their families.

The five men were killed on the stretch of road just outside the Kiwifruit coolstore.

The five men were killed on the stretch of road just outside the kiwifruit coolstore. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

The men, four of which were in New Zealand on seasonal work visas, were leaving a kiwifruit coolstore near Katikati on Tuesday night when their car was hit by a truck on State Highway Two.

Katikati seasonal employer liaison officer Sefita Hao'uli has been working with their families in New Zealand and in Tonga about what happens next.

He said the families of the four seasonal workers wanted them brought home.

"Now the funeral directors are preparing the deceased to be repatriated back to Tonga as soon as possible. Those details as to when are still unknown, because we have never had to put four Tongan caskets on an aircraft to Tonga."

A community remembrance service is being held in Katikati this evening.

Flower were left at the roadside where an unladen logging truck hit the car the men were travelling in.

Flowers were left at the roadside where an unladen logging truck hit the car the men were travelling in. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

Meanwhile, a local community leader said he was disappointed that Tonga's Prime Minister cancelled his trip to Katikati to visit the families of the Tongan men.

Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva, who is visiting New Zealand, was expected to meet with family members and attend the community remembrance service in Katikati.

Tonga's Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva

Tonga's Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva Photo: Alex Perrottet / RNZ

However, his office said the plan was cancelled because they were advised not to fly due to bad weather.

Tongan Advisory Council Board chair Melino Maka said the visit should have been the top priority.

"This is one of the saddest things for the Tongan community, and especially the Katikati Tongan community. What you have to understand is that you as a prime minister have to drop everything and try to be with the families, and make sure that the families know that you are there to support them in this difficult time."

A spokesperson said Mr Pohiva would fly back to Tonga on Saturday where he would meet with families there.

Mr Pohiva is set to face a vote of no confidence in the Tongan Parliament in coming weeks.