Temuka woman first on the scene at horror bus crash
Yasmine Lees can still hear the screams of the terrified and bloodied people she helped pull from the mangled wreckage of a horror bus crash.
The 18-year-old cafe worker from Temuka was one of the first people at the scene of the crash that left dozens of people in hospital, some with critical injuries.
The crash between a car and bus, which occurred on Windy Corner towards the bottom of the steep part of Otira Gorge on New Year's Eve, involved 36 people.
All were believed to be tourists, except the Kiwi bus driver.
Lees slammed on her car's brakes and the pair jumped out to race to help those in the vehicles, many of whom were trapped.
The front seat passenger of the crushed car, a young French-speaking woman, was "screaming in terror", Lees said.
"She was covered in blood, from her cuts."
They got the woman out of the car and then turned to the woman's father in the driver's seat, who was trapped under twisted metal.
"We couldn't move the father, he had half his faced ripped off. It was the scariest thing I've seen.
"Knowing we couldn't move him was hard.
"I could only sit there and let him know that it was going to be okay, that help was on its way."
The third passenger, the wife of the driver, was unconscious in the back seat.
Lees managed to wake the woman, but she was too afraid to move her as she believed the woman may have had spinal injuries.
Two motorcyclists had also witnessed the crash. With Lees and White, they started to help people from the wreckage of the bus.
The scene was horrific, Lees said.
"Most of them were just covered in blood. There were hands hanging off arms."
The horror of the incident has stayed with Lees. She was struggling to sleep, and found driving "scary".
"It was just the screaming, it's not something that's leaving my head."
St John territory manager and incident commander Kerry Mitchell said injuries included "broken bones, soft tissue injuries, crush injuries, partial traumatic amputations and head injuries".
Lees said communicating with the group was difficult as they did not understand English. She believed they were from a country in Asia.
As the smallest person there, Lees tried to crawl into the bus to see if she could help anyone still trapped inside.
She saw an elderly woman who was trapped and unconscious under the bus.
"She was very pale, I thought 'is she going to make it?'."
Unable to help the woman, she decided to start warning oncoming motorists.
Among the motorists were two women who were former nurses, who pitched in to help.
"It was really hard, trying to explain to people about what happened.
"I was in shock, I felt like I was a part of it."
Emergency service crews began to arrive about an hour after the crash occurred, she said.
In the interim, arriving motorists used whatever they could find to lift the bus up so people could reach the woman trapped under the bus.
A police spokeswoman said the cause of the crash was still to be determined
The police serious crash unit was investigating and would consider all potential causes, including the possibility of a mechanical failure on the bus.
Lees said the bus appeared to gather speed rapidly as it rounded corners shortly before the crash.
"It started losing traction, it was leaving skid marks on the road.
"It got to the point that it was tipping onto two wheels on each side.
"We started holding back our distance because we thought 'this isn't looking too good'."
She was amazed that the bus did not tear straight through the barrier and slide over the edge of the road.
"They were really lucky."