6 Sep 2011

Injured girl says children standing in crowded bus

11:00 pm on 6 September 2011

A 15-year-old injured when a logging truck hit a school bus in eastern Bay of Plenty says children were standing in the aisle of the overcrowded bus at the time of the crash.

Dozens of students were injured when the unladen truck ran into the back of the bus on Reid Road near Ruatoki, south of Whakatane, about 3.30pm on Monday.

Ruatoki pupil Stacey Waaka says even though she was facing towards the back of the bus at the time of the crash, she did not see what happened.

She says there was a big bang and afterwards can remember opening her eyes and all she could see were children underneath her. The girl says the bus is always overcrowded with students.

Her mother, Raewyn Waaka, says every parent who had a child on that bus would agree that another one is needed on that route.

Jody Rua, 15, was just about to get off the bus when it was shunted into a nearby paddock.

The boy was flung down the aisle, but after recovering says he began helping other students to safety. He says he was "freaking out" when he saw how bad the injuries were.

Rescue helicopter pilot Todd Dunham airlifted the truck driver to hospital and says the crash was one of the worst he has ever witnessed.

"The whole front of the truck is just crushed in," he said. "The school bus was shunted into a paddock along with the cab of the logging truck and the trailer was just sort of in a mangled mess, still on the road."

A Taneatua resident says there could be better signs along the road to advise drivers to look out for school children, as well as a different speed limit for trucks.

Seven children in hospital

A critically injured girl and six other children hurt in the collision remain in hospital on Tuesday.

The eight-year-old was transferred from Rotorua Hospital to Starship Hospital in Auckland overnight on Monday in a critical but stable condition.

A six-year-old girl is in Rotorua Hospital and is reported to be stable.

Two others, a five-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, are in a stable condition at Whakatane Hospital.

Two 12-year-old boys and a 10-year-old girl are in Tauranga Hospital and are described as doing well. The 41-year-old driver of the truck, also at Tauranga Hospital, is in a stable condition.

Two boys, aged 10, were discharged from Whakatane Hospital on Tuesday.

Pupils from three schools on bus

The bus was carrying pupils from Trident High School, Whakatane High School and primary school pupils from Taneatua School.

Most children on the bus were from Taneatua School, whose principal Rob Shaw who reached the scene shortly after the crash.

He says he been worried for some time about the speed of trucks in the area.

"State Highway 2 goes past our main gate and I do road patrol every afternoon. Between 3pm and 3.15pm every day I can count up to eight or nine big trucks that have passed our school ... some are very good, some aren't."

A special church service was held at the school on Tuesday and a karakia given.

Of the seven students from Whakatane High School on the bus, three were taken to hospital.

Principal Chris Nielson says members of the same family were on the bus at the time of the crash.

Trident High School principal Peter Tootell says he will be informing students and parents as much as he can, and supporting the students involved in the accident.

Investigation under way

Police say it will be at least a couple of days before they establish what caused the crash. Eastern Bay of Plenty Area Commander, Inspector Sandra Venables told Morning Report on Tuesday that the cause was unknown at that stage.

Transbay Coaches operations manager Stu McNabb says his drivers often report cars speeding past their buses.

Mr McNabb says motorists are supposed to slow to 20 km/h when passing a stationary bus.

Log Transport Safety Council chairman Warwick Wilshier says the drivers he has spoken to have been have been deeply affected by the crash.

"Once we understand what caused this accident we'll obviously see if there's anything that can be done to make sure it doesn't happen again."