Bethlehem teacher recounts Kenya crash

Last updated 17:35 23/01/2013
Waikato Times

Several members of the Bethlehem College mission to Kenya, who survived a car accident, have returned to their school to be reunited with friends and family.

Bethlehem College
Peter Drury/FAIRFAX NZ Zoom
Survivors held a vigil at Bethlehem College on Wednesday.
RECOVERING: Jan Dean (R) and Sam McDougall sit behind portraits of those who died in the crash.

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A Tauranga teacher involved in a fatal minivan crash in Kenya has described how she was trapped in the overturned vehicle and had to wait for rescuers, led by former pupils of the school, to pull her free.

Jan Dean, an English teacher at Bethlehem College who was on her 11th mission trip, said she had little memory of the smash, which killed Brian and Grace Johnston and former student Caitlin Dickson, 19.

''I think I remember a skid,'' she said. The van rolled four times and came to rest on its side.

Dean and other members of the mission to Ma'hanga village spoke to media at the college this afternoon.

Earlier in the day some of the students on the trip gathered at the school's performing arts centre for an emotion-charged vigil with current and past students.

Ten members of the mission have now returned to New Zealand, along with the bodies of the deceased, but five remain in Kenya, four of them in hospital.

''It's no fun at all being here knowing they are there - we just want them back,'' Dean said, her left arm in a sling because of a broken collarbone.

She said the group had been to visit a local high school, where students were studying Witi Ihimaera's Whale Rider, when the accident happened  about 1pm in light drizzle.

Dean said everyone was in good spirits - ''it was very noisy in the van'' - and the next thing she remembered was waking up and hearing noises outside.

The van's door was above her head, but she could not lift herself out. The mission leader, Phil Russell, was the only other person left in the van at that stage, and his face was covered in blood but he was conscious.

She said Sam McDougall, 18, asked her if she was okay.

McDougall, his left arm also in a sling because of a ''bung'' shoulder, described how he automatically went into rescue mode, along with students Luke Fisher, 17, and David Fellows, 19.

He couldn't use his shoulder, but he and the others had ''got off the easiest'' in terms of injuries so they set about checking on people, putting them into recovery positions and sorting out who needed to be taken to hospital.

Luke got hold of the dead driver's cellphone and called ahead to a car containing Calvine Ominde, the group's main contact in Ma'hanga, and other members of the group, telling them to turn around and head back to the accident site.

McDougall said several taxis stopped, and the passengers got out so that the vehicles could be used to ferry people to hospital.

''People who didn't even know us would leave their taxi and let us use it free of charge, which is real cool.''

Joy Fisher, 19, who finished year 13 last year, paid tribute to the three young men. ''They were so calm, they were our rocks. They told us what to do and were able to get us through it.''

When it came time to be flown to Nairobi, Dean said, the group were going to fly in their hospital gowns, but were told they would have to wear clothing.

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The only bags that could be retrieved were hers and another woman from the group.

''If you see pictures of the boys in chiffon-ey, negligee things, that's why,'' she said.

The group paid tribute to Kenyans who helped them. Some cooked ''massive feasts'' while others, many of them strangers, stopped by the hospital to pray for the injured.

All of the young people at the conference said the trip was life changing and they couldn't wait to go back.

Principal Eoin Crosbie said almost $40,000 had been raised for family of the dead Kenyan, the Johnston family, and the Ark Quest Education Centre in Mahanga.

He also paid tribute to government departments that had helped, including ACC, which had on its own initiative opened accounts for all of the injured.

- Stuff

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