26 Dec 2016

Bus crash victims meet for emotional church service

11:57 am on 26 December 2016

Grieving members of a touring Tongan brass band involved in a fatal bus crash have met for an emotional church service.

Eight people are recovering in hospital from the Christmas Eve accident south of Gisborne in which two passengers died.

The Minister of Pacific Peoples, Alfred Ngaro, visited survivors in Gisborne Hospital and went to the crash site this morning.

He said a meeting at the Tongan Methodist Church last night was sombre.

"There were people on crutches, with bandages and plastercasts," he said. "At that stage no-one was really wanting to talk about anything, everyone was still in shock

"There was quite a bit of emotion, very sombre."

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

The bus careered 100 metres down a bank and 29 people were taken to hospital.

Police officers who were fluent Tongan speakers were in Gisborne to support the group, a visiting brass band from a school in Vava'u.

One lane of State Highway 2 south of Gisborne will be closed this morning while police investigate the crash, the Transport Agency said. The road will be down to one lane from 9am for about three hours.

The Minister for Pacific Peoples, Alfred Ngaro, arrived in the city yesterday.

The bus went through a barrier on State Highway Two at Wharerata before plunging 100 metres.

Students from Mailefihi Siu'ilikutapu College on the Tongan island of Vava'u came to New Zealand on a four-week tour to fundraise for their July celebrations.

The school sent two bands, with the top one being those in the bus crash.

The other group had just finished a South Island tour on Friday and were in Christchurch when it happened.

The grieving members of the second group have now arrived in Auckland. They are considering whether to take over the performance commitments of the musicians whose bus crashed.

Fanelola Gamble, a driver with the second group, said the groups' leaders will meet in Ponsonby to decide the next steps.

She said the first group's instruments were damaged and they were expected to return home.

Ms Gamble, said her group's fundraising goal had been to take home 200,000 pa'anga, the equivalent of slightly more than $NZ130,000.

She said her group managed to raise the funds and were on track for the school's celebrations in July.

Ms Gamble said when the group got the news there had been a crash, they were devastated and did not sleep a wink.

She said the group was now planning on picking up the top band's schedule, while those in Gisborne looked to return home after their instruments were destroyed in the crash.

$12,500 has been raised so far to help the survivors of the crash.

More than 200 people have donated through a Givealittle page set up by one of the first people on the scene, Kristina Williams.