9 Jan 2017

Tongan teacher killed by bus crash to be flown home

9:50 am on 9 January 2017

The body of the third person to die from a Christmas Eve bus crash near Gisborne will be taken home to Vava'u in Tonga today.

Leotisia Malakai, 55, died on New Year's Day, a week after she was injured in a bus crash near Gisborne.

Leotisia Malakai, 55, died on New Year's Day, a week after she was injured in a bus crash near Gisborne. Photo: Supplied / Hepi Havea

Leotisia Malakai, 55, was pronounced dead at Waikato Hospital last Sunday.

Known as Sia, she was on the bus with 52 other members and supporters of the brass band from Vava'u's Mailefihi Siu'ilikutapu College when it plunged down a cliff.

Two other passengers - 11-year-old Sione Taumololo and 33-year-old Talita Fifita - died in the crash and several others were sent to hospital.

The group had been heading to Gisborne's Wesleyan Methodist Church to perform on Christmas Day.

A spokesperson for Ms Malakai's family, Hepi Havea, said she heard about the crash the evening it happened.

Sione Taumalolo, 11 died along with Talita Fifita, 33 in the bus crash near Gisborne on Christmas Eve.

Sione Taumalolo, 11, died along with Talita Fifita, 33, in the bus crash near Gisborne on Christmas Eve. Photo: Supplied

Ms Havea and her husband, who both live in Hamilton, travelled to Gisborne and saw Ms Malakai on Christmas Day.

"We were told she'd be flown [to Waikato Hospital] so I flew with her in the plane and my husband drove back," Ms Havea said.

Ms Havea and her husband then stayed by Ms Malakai's bedside until she died last Sunday.

She said she was there when former students visited.

"They said Sia did a great job for them when they were still at school... She was one of their favourite teachers, according to them."

Ms Malakai was a very respectful person, a family person, loving, and a "funny lady to hang around", she said. The family was mourning her loss.

"They're sad about what happened to Sia - very, very sad - but this is a circumstance that we can't do anything about it," Ms Havea said.

Ms Malakai would be remembered as headmistress at Mailefihi Siu'ilikutapu College who played a vital role in people's lives, Ms Havea said, and as a single mother to two adopted boys living in Vava'u, now aged 18 and 21.

Ms Malakai had been financially supporting her sons and the family were discussing how to help them now.

Her death would also be a tremendous loss for the school, Ms Havea said.

"Most of the staff at their school depend on her in terms of speaking and especially the cultural matters of the school was handled by Sia," Ms Havea said.

"She had the full responsibility to look after the girls because it's a boys' school and a girls' school.

"The pastoral care for all the girls was done by her. She had been there for a long time."

The brass band were touring New Zealand to raise funds for the school's 70th reunion later in the year.

Ms Havea said something would "absolutely" be planned for during the celebrations to remember the three who lost their lives.

The return of Ms Malakai's body this evening would be followed by a family funeral service and prayer ceremony tomorrow.