3 Aug 2016

Five Tongan men killed in crash in NZ

11:26 am on 3 August 2016

Five Tongan men leaving their kiwifruit packhouse jobs yesterday evening have been killed in a crash with an empty logging truck near Katikati, New Zealand.

One of the men was based in New Zealand; the other four had come from Tonga for the season.

The men were pulling out on to the state highway after finishing their shift when they were hit.

The crash, just after 8 pm NZT yesterday outside the Aongatete Coolstore, closed State Highway 2 for four hours, and police and fire crews with heavy cutting gear attended the scene.

Fire Service shift commander Paul Radden said it is not yet clear what caused the crash.

"Upon arrival the brigade found persons trapped in the vehicle. Tragically the fatalities are from the car."

Mr Radden said it is a relatively straight stretch of road, and police said the truck driver was distraught, but not injured in the crash.

Sawmill operator Kevin Ward lives nearby and his partner had just finished her shift working with the men who died.

"She just walked in the door and we heard a big bang.

"So I went out there and the car was pushed onto the opposite side of the road, up onto the bank, and there was nobody moving in the car."

Mr Ward said the men were pulling out from Dawson's Road to head north when the truck hit the driver's side.

The coolstore operator, Allan Dawson, said they are now contacting all the men's families in New Zealand and Tonga, and giving support to his workers, some of who witnessed the crash.

"We're all just extremely distraught at the moment, we're all reeling."

He said there was a dip in the highway to the north which oncoming cars and trucks could appear out of "quite quickly".

He said his company would be providing financial support to the dead men's families.

The Serious Crash Unit and Commercial Vehicle Investigation Unit were at the scene.

Western Bay of Plenty Mayor, Ross Patterson.

Western Bay of Plenty Mayor, Ross Patterson. Photo: NZ government

Katikati to rally around families

The mayor of Western Bay of Plenty Ross Patterson said the local community board was looking to set up a financial assistance fund for the families of the men, four of whome were seasonal workers from Tonga.

Mr Patterson said there hadn't been an accident like it for 25 years.

"The situation is that Katikati is in total shock," he said.

"These people have been part of the community for a considerable period of time. I understand one was a permanent worker the other four were seasonal workers. The Tongan community is very much a part of Katikati and has been. They are a part of the church and they are also very strong in supporting the local rugby club."