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Two bus collision leaves three dead

Wednesday 22 June 2016 | Published in Regional

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Australian tourists airlifted after crash in Vanuatu

VANUATU – Seriously injured Australian tourists haven been airlifted to Australian and New Caledonian hospitals after a head-on bus crash in Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila reportedly left three locals dead.

At least 12 Australians were injured when their tour bus collided with a bus carrying locals.

Dr Emmeline Finn, from Australian air ambulance service CareFlight, said many of the passengers were critically injured with head injuries, open wounds and long-bone fractures and the survival of some of the patients was touch-and-go.

The most seriously injured patients with head injuries were airlifted to Noumea on Monday night, she said.

The Vanuatu Daily Post reported three people who had been travelling in the local bus had died from their injuries.

The Australians had arrived in Vanuatu on board the P&O cruise ship Pacific Dawn.

P&O spokesman David Jones said airlifts had been underway throughout the night to transport 10 of the injured Australians to either Noumea or Brisbane for specialist treatment.

“In terms of the Australian passengers, 12 had significant injuries and 10 of those were at a level where we thought it was best to arrange air ambulance evacuations to Noumea and to Brisbane,” he told the ABC.

Intensive care paramedic Michael Benjamin, who attended the scene, said the injured included three children who were passengers on the cruise ship, two boys aged seven and 11 and a four-year-old girl.

He said the 11-year-old suffered significant head injuries and was among those to be airlifted to Noumea.

The Australia-based CareFlight air ambulance joined the evacuation efforts when it left Brisbane International Airport just after 7.00am on Tuesday.

“A retrieval like this is quite difficult. Like any retrieval you never know what you’re going to be confronted with when you arrive there,” Dr Finn said.

“In a place like Vanuatu, which is quite remote with limited resources and staff and equipment, we sort of tend to note that as being like a primary scene.”

The air ambulances were sent to Vanuatu equipped with specialist staff as well as blood, antibiotics and heat warming blankets.

Dr Finn said there was a risk of the open wounds becoming infected.

Vanuatu Independent editor Tony Wilson said serious crashes were rare in Vanuatu.

“I must say accidents of this magnitude are very rare in Vanuatu. Normally here you’re pretty safe on the roads because a lot of the road systems are of such poor quality that you just can’t speed,” he told the ABC.

Benjamin, who has worked for six years with charity Promedical Vanuatu and previously worked as a paramedic in Melbourne, said it was the worst crash he had seen in Vanuatu.

“It was a particularly bad scene and particularly complicated due to the number of people we had there,” he said.

Port Vila-based paramedic Casey Lewis said the crash was challenging for emergency services with limited resources. He confirmed the ship’s doctor was also on scene to assist.

In a Facebook post, P&O Cruises Australia said they had made contact with the families of the injured guests.

“Our thoughts are with our guests and families at this time and also with members of the Ni Van community who were injured,” the post said.

A P&O spokesman, David Jones did not want to comment at length on Facebook posts by former P&O passengers, who said they’d feared for their own safety while on bus tours in Vanuatu.

Cruise operator Carnival Australia denied suggestions the driver may have been speeding or was drunk, adding that it would suspend dealings with the tour company involved pending an investigation.

Radio New Zealand has reported that police have laid charges against the driver of the tourist bus.

The driver, who was transporting tourists from the cruise ship, has been charged with reckless driving causing death after he allegedly crossed the centre line and collided with an oncoming vehicle.

Police said the tourist bus driver was still in hospital being treated for minor injuries.

The driver of the second bus, carrying local passengers, was killed as was one of his passengers – a woman who was eight months pregnant.

According to the Vanuatu Daily Post, the busload of Australians were returning from a tour at the Ekasup Cultural Village when the crash occurred.

P&O Cruises Australia said the ship would remain in Port Vila until the medical transfers were complete.

The Pacific Dawn 11-night cruise departed Brisbane on June 14 and Port Vila was the fourth port stopover of the trip. It is unclear whether the ship will make the rest of its scheduled stops.

Vanuatu Public Utilities Minister Jotham Napat promised a full investigation and said the government had worked with the tourism industry to improve traffic conditions and standards for visitors and locals.

“Tourism is one of the most important industries and it is a priority of our government to ensure our visitors enjoy all Vanuatu has to offer,” he said.

- PNC sources