Five tourists killed in bus rollover crash near Rotorua, New Zealand
A tourist bus that crashed outside Rotorua in New Zealand, leaving five people dead went off the road after failing to take what police have described as a "moderate to easy bend" on Wednesday, 4 September 2019. Speaking at a press conference at Rotorua Police Station, Bay of Plenty road policing district manager Inspector Brent Crowe said the bus, travelling south, had then crossed toward the other side of the road, corrected, then flipped onto the driver's side, "quite a way off the road". Crowe said five people were confirmed dead, two had serious injuries, four moderate injuries and the rest of the passengers were less injured, some able to walk away. He said the bus contained 27 Chinese nationals in total. The driver's condition was described as not serious. Crowe described the weather at the time of the crash as "very unfavourable high winds, fog and a lot of rain and the road surface was clearly wet, therefore slippery."
The first person on the scene, Bishal Jung Basnet, 23, said "people started to leap from the bus, some of them were crying and injured and I managed to carry one lady on my back and bring her out of the accident zone. I saw her blood on her eyebrows."
An investigation into the cause of the crash was underway. Police said they could not speculate on the contributing factors "at this early stage".
Crowe described the crash as "an absolute tragedy". He said a police liaison team, which included Chinese speaking officers, was assembling "around the victims to provide the best possible care at this time". Police would be concentrating on recovering the dead from the crash scene. They were working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Chinese consulate to identify the victims so to notify next of kin. Crowe said it was "early days" as to when they could release details of the age and gender of the deceased.
He was unable to confirm whether the bus passengers were wearing seatbelts, or whether the bus was fitted with them, but said that would be one "focus" of the investigation team. Crowe also said it would be "weeks if not months" before any decision of whether any charges are laid in the wake of the crash.
State Highway 5 re-opened about 19h30 on Wednesday night. Crowe paid tribute to emergency services and the wider Rotorua community who had been rallying to support the victims. "The aroha from the Rotorua community will shine through and we will assist these people in their recovery."
Survivors were seen earlier emerging from the crash scene wearing rain coats and carrying umbrellas as they were escorted away. A Rotorua Lakes District Council vehicle transported four of them to their accommodation, a nearby hotel.
When approached by a Stuff reporter, one of the survivors said "we're ok" and gave a thumbs-up but wouldn't comment further.
Earlier, Associated Press reported that Liang Zhi, a diplomat from the Chinese Embassy in New Zealand, said they understand the bus was carrying tourists mostly from the Sichuan province. Mayor Steve Chadwick told Stuff the Rotorua Lakes council was providing welfare for those who walked away from the crash. "This is absolutely tragic and as a community we will do whatever we can to assist," said Chadwick.
"At the request of the police, Rotorua Lakes Council is providing any welfare assistance needed for passengers who were not injured. That could include anything from providing food and translation services to liaising with accommodation providers and enabling them to contact family. "This is a police-led operation and Council staff, under the direction of civil defence staff, are assisting as required."
St John Ambulance dispatched five helicopters, three ambulances and a manager to the scene. The first of five helicopters involved in the rescue effort touched down in Hamilton soon after 13h00, with staff wheeling injured patients into the hospital. Other rescue helicopters were seen landing at Waikato hospital and patients were taken inside on stretchers.
St John earlier confirmed one patient in a serious condition and one patient in moderate condition were airlifted to Waikato Hospital. One patient in moderate condition was flown to Tauranga Hospital and three patients in moderate to minor condition were transported by road to Rotorua Hospital. 15 patients were transported to a secondary triage area for further assessment.
Trust TECT Rescue Helicopter pilot Todd Dunham said it was pouring with rain while the crew worked "heads down" to get their patient on board the Bell222 helicopter. Greenlea Rescue Helicopter pilot Nat Every said it was a busy, yet well organised scene, with four helicopters arriving with 10 minutes of each other. "There was a lot going on. It's pretty sad for all involved."
Meanwhile, the Red Cross Disaster Welfare and Support Team had been activated. "Our volunteers are currently supporting people affected by the recent bus crash, providing psychological first aid assistance," they posted on Twitter.