Four tourists killed in crash near National Park
MICHELLE COOKE AND MIKE WATSON
Police have named the four Argentinians killed in a car crash near National Park last night
They are Agustin Donofrio, 25, German Caceres, 35, Nicolas Ursic, 27, and Luciano Pucheta, 19.
A 25-year-old Chilean man who is in a serious condition in Waikato Hospital has also been named. He is Benjamin Blake.
The men's families have all been contacted, Taumarunui inspector Steve Mastrovich said.
All of the deceased, as well as the sole survivor, were workers on Mt Ruapehu.
The crash scene near National Park where the tourists were killed last night looked like a bomb had gone off, Mastrovich said.
The men had just played a game of indoor soccer at Ruapehu College in Ohakune and were returning to their backpacker accommodation in National Park when the car they were in collided with a truck, Taumarunui inspector Steve Mastrovich said.
One 25-year-old man, a Chilean, was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries.
Ruapehu Alpine Lifts general manager Dave Mazey said four of the car's occupants worked in hospitality and one worked in the ski rental area on the mountain.
One of the five had returned to work a second season this year.
The remaining four were on their first season.
Mazey said it was a "very tragic" accident.
He knew them as colleagues but not close friends.
The company was providing support for the friends and wider staff.
"It's a reasonably close kinship amongst staff and it has affected them in different ways."
For the past four to five years there had been 20-30 South American staff working on the mountain each year.
"The accident was absolutely unexpected of course."
He did not believe it was necessary to remind staff about New Zealand driving conditions, which could affect all staff, from New Zealand or overseas.
"It's an issue which everyone has and it's not something we would need to do specifically for overseas staff."
Several of the group had been travelling in New Zealand over the past summer.
Two were from Buenos Aires and two from Cordoba, in Argentina.
The girlfriend of one of the occupants has gone to talk to Taumarunui police this afternoon.
She was too distressed to comment on the crash.
They were believed to be staying in more than one backpackers in National Park.
The one man who survived the crash had undergone surgery this morning was in a serious but stable condition in the hospital's high dependency unit.
The crash occurred on State Highway 4 between Ohakune and National Park, just north of the Makatote Viaduct in the central North Island about 10pm last night.
The Holden Commodore station wagon they were in was overtaking another vehicle on a straight stretch of road when it collided with the truck.
"It got into a bit of a dip on a straight and when it came out a truck and trailer came around the bend and they couldn't avoid it," Mastrovich said.
The car, understood to be a Holden Commodore, was dragged some distance and some of the men were flung from it.
Its engine was ripped from the chassis and shunted underneath the body of the vehicle, and the roof of the vehicle was caved in as the truck had gone over the top of the car.
"It's just like a bomb has gone off when you get an accident like that," Mastrovich said.
The truck driver received minor injuries.
The owner of a local wreckers firm called out to recover the vehicles around midnight last night said one of the dead men and the injured man were trapped underneath the car.
Colin Fredricksen, of Horopito Smash Palace Wreckers, said he had to use a crane lift on his tow truck to lift the car so volunteer Fire Service crews could recover the two men.
The other three men were all dead, trapped in the car, he said.
"It was the worst I've seen around here in 30 years," Fredricksen said.
Tyre marks from the southbound truck, as the driver attempted to brake, were clearly visible on the road.
Fredricksen said the truck driver had told him he had "less than two seconds to react" before the collision.
The impact snapped the truck's steering, he said.
Police had spoken to a number of witnesses, including the truck driver and those in the car that the vehicle was overtaking at the time.
Crash investigators canvassed the scene again this morning and would be looking into whether speed or alcohol were factors, but there was no indication that either were involved, Mastrovich said.
Road and weather conditions were good last night with no ice or slippery surfaces.
The corner near the crash scene was at the end of a long straight just north of a major railway viaduct.
Police had spoken to friends and acquaintances of the five men, who were obviously traumatised. They were working to establish the men's identities before contacting their families in South America.
Argentina's Embassy confirmed it was involved when contacted this morning.
When Hall worked at National Park in the 80s there were numerous fatal car crashes in the area, he said.
But the road toll had steadily declined since and police in the area were no longer familiar with dealing with such horrific crashes.
In May, three American students were killed when the people-mover they were in rolled on a bend on State Highway 46, south of Turangi.
Austin Brashears, 21, Daniela Rosanna Lekhno, 20, and Roch Jauberty, 21 were all killed while a fourth passenger, Meg Theriault, 21, spent weeks in hospital before returning to the United States.
- The Dominion Post
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