12 Aug 2016

Bay of Plenty crash dead return to Tonga

8:05 am on 12 August 2016

The bodies of four of the five men killed in the Bay of Plenty road crash last week are being flown back to Tonga this morning.

About 30 people are accompanying the bodies of Uloupini and Koli Vaipulu, Sione Teulaka and Samuela Taukatelata on the flight from Auckland to Fuaʻamotu International Airport.

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

The men were killed when their car was hit by a logging truck as they left work at Aongatete Kiwifruit Coolstore.

Many of their workmates are not on the flight today because they are staying in New Zealand to keep working and earn money for the bereaved families.

Those who have stayed in Katikati held a small private ceremony yesterday as the cortege of hearses stopped briefly at the cool store.

Packhouse manager Clive Excelby said friends and co-workers wanted to have a final chance to say good-bye.

He said they placed their hands on the caskets and prayed before the hearses left for Auckland.

"They just went slowly and we walked each side of the six vehicles until we got to the main highway. Then we farewelled them and stood there and watched them go up the highway to Auckland."

He said it was just a small private occasion and meant a lot to those left behind.

Cool store operator Allan Dawson said he had been stunned at how many of the workers were staying in New Zealand to keep earning money to send to their friends' families in Tonga.

"We were heartened by the fact that the Tongan people wouldn't go back as we had first thought with the bodies but would stay on for the next month to earn money.

"And that they were going to donate that money from now on," he said

Mr Dawson said the generosity of everyone working at the cool store had been humbling.

"They just give when giving is necessary irrespective of whether they have greater need themselves. A lot of our staff feel the same way.

"Some of them who have given money can ill afford to but that's just how they are and it's how it has affected them."

Chief executive of the Tongan Department of Internal Affairs Ana Bing-Fonua is one of the 30 people travelling to Tonga this morning with the bodies.

The flight will be met by government officials for a short service so they can pay their respects to the men, she said.

Ms Bing-Fonua said the workers staying behind to earn money for the families were manking an amazing gesture.

"Absolutely an example to many people that they would continue to serve for the families of these boys that we have lost. That they would go out of their way to support and do all that they can."

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