Tarawera crash: Workmates describe harrowing moments after father of five killed

Moments after a van full of seasonal workers had been hit by a truck, their workmates rushed across a busy highway to help their friends – one of whom would be pronounced dead a few minutes later.

The harrowing moments have been described by workers caught up in yesterday’s devastating crash, involving a truck, on State Highway 5, near Tarawera.

Three vans carrying workers heading to Taupō were turning into the Tarawera Cafe, on the right, when the crash happened.

Daniel Nafoitoa Ulale, 25, was in one of the first two vans that had safely turned into the cafe car park when they heard a huge crash behind them.

“We looked over and saw the truck had crashed. We thought it was just the truck – but then we saw it had smashed into the van,” he told the Herald.

“We all ran over to help. There were a couple of boys stuck in the van and we were working to get them out.”

One of those men, he said, had been sitting in the front passenger seat and would later be pronounced dead.

Video footage taken at the scene after the crash shows several young men wrapped in blankets as colleagues, members of the public and emergency services help them.

In the background, St John paramedics can be seen working on a man lying on the ground, as friends gather around him – one who breaks down crying, calling out his dead mate’s name.

Ulale’s voice goes quiet when he talks about those moments and remembering his friend.

“We just heard someone say [he] had died. Just shocked. He was a family man – he was gentle and respectful, the bro was.”

He was known for being a proud husband and father. His youngest child is still a baby, Ulale said.

The victim had worked in New Zealand under the RSE scheme for about eight years and was well-liked by fellow colleagues and staff.

'I'll never forget you, brother'

Another friend told the Herald they would never forget their mate, who had come to New Zealand in a bid to seek a better life and future for his young family; but had died in the process.

“I’ll never forget you, brother,” he said.

Police are continuing their investigation into the crash and said it would be a while before officers were in a position to speak to everyone involved.

A total of 10 people were taken to various hospitals around the North Island – with at least two people said to be in a critical condition yesterday.

Workers have been told this morning that their colleagues had improved over the last few hours; save for the driver, whose condition had yet to be updated.

Back in Samoa, a spokesman for the country’s Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour, has acknowledged the tragedy.

Chief executive Pulotu Lyndon Chu Ling told local media that his New Zealand-based division was working to confirm the details of the crash.

The Herald has also approached him for comment.

Yesterday’s death comes almost two months after a similar crash that involved a group of seasonal workers from Samoa and also resulted in a death.

Selesele Vaetasi Mati Asiata, 36, was killed when the van he was in a passenger in crashed on SH2 near the Sandhurst Drive onramp and Maunganui Rd, in the Bay of Plenty, on August 23.

Like the latest victim, Asiata had worked in New Zealand for several years to help his parents and young family back in the motherland.

He and the group of men he was with had just finished their last shift before preparing to return to Samoa five days later.

A 35-year-old man was later charged with careless or inconsiderate vehicle operation causing death, police said.

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