25 Dec 2016

Tongan college group in deadly bus crash

8:59 pm on 25 December 2016

The second body has been recovered from the site where a bus with members of a Tongan school band and supporters crashed south of Gisborne last night.

Emergency services at the scene of the bus crash south of Gisborne that claimed two lives.

Emergency services at the scene of the bus crash south of Gisborne that claimed two lives. Photo: Facebook / Tonganow

One person is in a critical condition, another is serious and eight are in a stable condition

The area has has been secured by Police.

A police spokesperson said the Serious Crash Unit was at the scene today with a scene guard up.

She said the unit will return tomorrow and is was likely to be a few days until the bus is recovered. The road would need to be closed again to allow a crane to be stationed there.

The Transport Agency says the road will be down to one lane for three hours from 9am tomorrow morning while police investigators are there.

A vigil is being held in Gisborne tonight for those on board the bus.

The bus, with 46 brass band members from a college in Vava'u in Tonga, were on their way to Gisborne to perform at a church today.

Two people are confirmed dead, one person is in a critical condition and one is stable at Hastings Hospital. A further person is in a serious condition at Gisborne Hospital and seven people are in a stable condition.

Police said those who did not need further medical treatment were being cared for by the local Tongan community, the Methodist Church, and Victim Support.

Police said the bus appeared to have crashed through a barrier at about 9.30pm last night before plunging 100 metres down a cliff on State Highway Two at Wharerata, about 30km south of Gisborne.

The group - from Mailefihi Siu'ilikutapu College - were touring across the country and had performed at Wellington's Christmas parade.

Reverend Sunia Ha'unga said he was expecting about 100 people at tonight's service, starting at about 8pm.

He said the congregation were looking forward to the band playing at their church today but instead he had been visiting some of the members in hospital.

He said it was very hard to explain but it was been a shock to the community.

He said the church members were waiting for hours yesterday before they heard about the fatal crash.

St John Tairawhiti territory manager Shane Clapperton -who has been in the job for 28 years - said many of the people on the bus were fortunate they were not seriously injured or killed.

A photo shows one man among the belongings of the group which were strewn down the bank.

A photo shows one man among the belongings of the group which were strewn down the bank. Photo: Facebook / Tonganow

New Minister for Pacific Peoples Alfred Ngaro said those on the bus were not the whole group.

He said half of them were in Christchurch and were being supported by the Tongan community and Methodist church there.

Mr Ngaro has travelled to Gisborne today to support the group.

State Highway Two was closed at Wharerata overnight but is open again, though down to one lane until later this afternoon.

Police said recovering the bus is likely to be challenging, especially as the necessary heavy equipment may not be readily available during the Christmas period.

Bus got lost ahead of fund-raising church performance

The group of brass band members had been heading to Gisborne's Wesleyan Methodist Church for a performance.

Church Reverend Sunia Ha'unga said they were due at the church at 3pm but mistakenly went to Napier, instead of Gisborne.

Reverend Ha'unga said news of the accident came through after 10pm and members of his church had rushed to the crash site.

He said the group was on a scheduled tour around parts of New Zealand as part of a school fundraiser.

Kristina Williams lives on a farm near where the accident happened.

She said a car drove up to her property in the middle of the night, honking for them to raise the alarm because they could not get cell phone coverage.

Mrs Williams said she called the ambulance and hopped in the car with her first aid kit.

"But ended up going up there with torches and managed to scramble down the bank as survivors were trying to make their way back up a very steep, probably 45 percent gradient cliff."

She said the passengers were teenagers, with some older passengers, and she believed they all knew each other.

"They were so supportive of one another, they were so thankful of all the ambulance staff and the police and the fire crews, and just kept saying thank you and a very, very peaceful bunch of people, it blew us away really."

She said it was a terrible experience and she felt compelled to set up a Givealittle page for the victims of the crash.

"I just felt so helpless when I got home, I knew the word would be spreading fairly quick so it's really the only thing I though I could do to help, and I know other people will be thinking the same."

She said the passengers were scrambling up the bank and did not even have shoes on and were lightly clothed.

Mrs Williams said she handed out blankets to keep the victims warm, and while it had not been a cold night, the bus was down a ravine in a thick-bushed area.