Fatal Rotorua bus crash: 'Some were carrying their relatives ... just holding them'

10:13 am on 5 September 2019

A witness has described the first minutes after arriving at the scene of the tour bus crash near Rotorua.

Emergency services at the scene of the bus crash near Rotorua.

Photo: Bishal Jung Basnet / Supplied

Five Chinese tourists died when the bus flipped on State Highway 5 at Ngātira near Rotorua.

Police said the bus failed to navigate a "moderate-to-easy" bend in poor weather conditions on its way towards Rotorua yesterday morning, and rolled onto its side.

Twenty-two people survived, including the driver. Two were seriously hurt and airlifted to hospital and four others have moderate injuries.

On Thursday morning, some survivors were continuing to receive treatment in three North Island hospitals.

Patients were being treated in Waitako Hospital and Rotorua Hospital.

Bishal Basnet, with his brother and uncle, was driving on SH5 through steady rain and fog when he saw people waving down cars in distress.

"When we reached the accident zone, people were shouting 'Help! Help!' and waving to every car passing. Running to them, I carried one lady on my back away from the accident zone," he said.

"Some of them were injured, and some were in shock, and some had blood on their face. Some of them were carrying their relatives, their people, just holding them."

Mr Basnet said the bus was lying on its side off the road with windows and panels smashed. Minutes after the crash people were slowly starting to get out of the bus, some injured and screaming.

About five other bystanders were helping, before first responders arrived, Mr Basnet said. Some told him there were people trapped inside.

Since April there have been three other crashes in the wider region in which more than four people died in, including a two-car crash which killed eight people - seven from the same family.

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick said the council had set up a welfare centre to care for and accommodate the survivors. That has since been closed and police are managing the response.

"People were bussed there and are now all safely accommodated at motels locally," Ms Chadwick said.

"I was impressed that there are speakers of their language there with them, so they'll be really wrapped around by our community while they're here."

Ms Chadwick said the local Chinese community was rallying around the survivors of the bus crash.

The community response had been heartfelt, she said.

Many Rotorua locals were continuing to help with translating and supporting people at the hospital.

Chinese Ambassador, Wu Xi, was due in Rotorua last night to support the Chinese citizens. Embassy spokesperson Zhi Liang said members of the tour group were mostly from Sichuan province.

Bay of Plenty road policing manager Inspector Brent Crowe said no other vehicles were involved.

He said road generally doesn't cause many problems, but conditions were poor at the time.

"The road itself is reasonably hilly, it's the descent into Rotorua. There's a number of curves, and at the time the weather was very unfavourable, high winds, fog and a lot of rain, and the road surface was slippery."

Mr Crowe wouldn't say whether passengers were wearing seatbelts. "We've got a long way to go in the investigation. As you can imagine we'll be looking at the driver, the weather elements, the environment and the vehicle itself, and a decision on charges is probably weeks if not months away."

The road re-opened to traffic last night. Police are working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to identify the dead and will notify their next of kin as soon as possible. The ethnic liaison team, including Chinese-speaking officers, and Victim Support are supporting those affected.