Thirty-six people involved in bus crash at Otira Gorge, Arthur's Pass
Passing motorists ran to help a bus load of tourists trapped after a collision with a car in Otira Gorge, near Arthur's Pass.
Thirty-six people – all tourists, except the Kiwi driver of the bus – were involved in the crash, which has left three people "very seriously" injured.
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Eight people were transported to Christchurch Hospital, seven by helicopter and one by road, and eight were taken to Grey Base Hospital in Greymouth with minor or moderate injuries, said Ian Henderson from St John.
Another 15 non-injured passengers were taken back to Greymouth by police.
Department of Conservation senior ranger Chris Stewart was one of the first people at the scene.
Stewart said a bus headed towards Greymouth had collided with a car heading in the opposite direction.
The crash happened on Windy Corner towards the bottom of the steep part of Otira Gorge.
People were helping those trapped before emergency services arrived.
"There were nurses there and people with medical backgrounds which was really lucky," Stewart said.
He said an ambulance was travelling through the area on a transfer at the time and was able to get to the incident swiftly.
"The bus is lying on its side, it hasn't gone down the bank, it's sitting on the side of the road. There is a barrier there that had stopped it.
"The bus is pretty smashed up. They had to cut the car open... It was pretty squashed up. They had to use jaws of life to get the people out."
The bus still lay on the side of the road at 3.30pm on Thursday while police investigated the scene. Debris and oil was scattered across the
Stewart was not sure how the bus would be removed but said it could be either by crane or truck.
Geoff and Marthy Cloake, of Timaru, were also among the first on the scene.
Geoff Cloake said it was amazing how other motorists stopped to help.
Two men on motorcycles had broken the bus's window and were lifting people free.
"I ran back to ask everyone in the line of cars if they knew first aid or had a first aid kit. I brought my first aid kit up and tried to administer first aid," he said.
"It was very hard to communicate because they didn't speak English. There was a woman interpreting Mandarin but she said they didn't all speak Mandarin. "
Marthy Cloake, a former nurse, looked after a critically-injured man.
"It was heartening to see how people responded. Each injured person had a team looking after them. People were giving out water and sunscreen looking after the carers too, " she said.
"There were so many people, so many injured and in shock. They were lucky they didn't go over the bank," she said.
Acting West Coast police inspector Iain McKenzie said there were "quite a few walking wounded at the scene. We will need buses to bring them to either Greymouth or Christchurch."
It is understood the people in the car were tourists from Europe and the people in the bus are a tour group from Asia.
Westpac rescue helicopter spokesman Simon Duncan said three patients were considered "status one", which meant they potentially life-threatening injuries.
Duncan said two patients were "status two".
Two patients were female, one aged in her 50s and one aged in her 20s. The genders of the other patients was not known.
A medical team was being flown to Greymouth, Duncan said.
Motorists were urged to stay away from the area and make alternative plans.
Christchurch woman Jodi Gauci, her husband and their two children, were travelling to Lake Brunner to stay with friends for New Year's Eve when they got stuck in a long line of traffic behind the crash.
A man in a hi-vis vest was telling drivers he had no idea how long the road would be closed for, so they decided to turn around and head back to Christchurch.
"We'll go home and stay there. The alternative is too far – a five to six hour drive around."
A number of other cars also turned around, she said.
Christchurch man Tony Reiner had pulled out a camping chair and was considering getting the chilly bin from the boot of his car.
"We were on our way to Hokitika for a holiday... we will wait here until the road opens again. There is no point going home and coming
One lane of the road was reopened at about 4pm, said Gillian MacDougall, the owner of the Otira Stagecoach Hotel.
A serious crash investigation is under way and a police spoksewoman said it will consider all potential causes of the crash, including the possibility of a mechanical failure on the bus.
She said motorists were urged to avoid the area if possible as there will be significant delays.