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Bodies of bus crash victims on way home

Thursday 29 December 2016 | Published in Regional

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TONGA – The bodies of the two Tongan victims killed in a bus crash in Gisborne on Christmas eve will be returned to Tonga on Saturday.

Fifty-three people were onboard the bus when it plunged 50 metres down a steep bank killing 11-year-old Sione Taumololo, and 33 year-old Talita Fifita.

They were a band member and a supporter of a college brass band from Tonga who were on a fundraising tour around New Zealand.

The students and supporters on board were from Mailefihi Siu’ilikutapu College on the island of Vava‘u.

They were on a four-week tour of New Zealand, raising funds for the school’s 70th anniversary celebrations in July.

The president of the school’s alumni association in New Zealand said the bodies would undergo a post-mortem in Rotorua before arriving in Auckland.

Mele Siuipi Latu said the survivors of the crash were also due to arrive in Auckland yesterday.

“By Thursday night, the bodies will be taken to a church in Ponsonby and there will be an official service for them there with families and friends and people of the churches,” she said.

“Their bodies will be taken to the airport on Friday night, and they will be taken to Tonga on Saturday.”

Police say they can now examine the bus for any mechanical faults after it was recovered from about 40 metres down a very steep bank off State Highway 2 in the Wharerata hills.

Sergeant Cory Ubels said getting the bus back up to the highway was a very difficult task involving two specialist cranes.

He said the investigation into the cause of the crash was ongoing.

“Now that we’ve got the bus back, we can inspect it to determine if there were any mechanical faults.

“The scene has been fully examined, and we’re in the middle of interviewing everyone that was involved, including the passengers, to try and identify what happened.”

Ubels said it was too early to say whether charges will be laid.

One of the organisers of the trip, Mele Suipi Fakatava-Latu, said the passengers on the bus were supposed to perform in Gisborne and after discussions with the group they decided to go ahead.

“It’s not going to be dancing and all those kinds of things we normally do, but it will be mainly the singing of hymns and biblical recitals,” he said ahead of the concert which was held at the Gisborne House of Breakthrough church.

- RNZI/PNC