Five Chinese tourists have died and six others have been injured in a bus crash near a popular tourist resort on New Zealand’s North Island.
Police said 27 people were on board the vehicle when it rolled over on State Highway 5, about 20 minutes north of Rotorua, at around 11am local time on Wednesday.
Inspector Brent Crowe told a news conference the bus was travelling south towards the town, which is known for its geothermal activity including geysers and mud pools, as well as its Maori culture, when it lost control at a bend.
As a result it went on to the wrong side of the road, corrected and subsequently flipped on to its side.
No other vehicles were involved and the driver was not seriously injured.
Mr Crowe said the cause of the “tragic incident” was being investigated, with police looking into whether the bus was fitted with seat belts and if those on board were wearing them.
He said the road was reasonably hilly, had several bends and the weather was “unfavourable”, with high winds, rain and fog.
“The serious crash team and also the commercial vehicle safety team are still at the scene and they’ll be there for a period of time, seeking clues as to why this tragic event has occurred,” he said.
“This is an absolute tragedy on Bay of Plenty roads, even more so by the fact that we have Chinese nationals, visitors to our country, who have been impacted in this way.
“This is a very traumatic event for all concerned.”
Liang Zhi, a diplomat from the Chinese Embassy in Wellington, situated in the South Island, said the bus was carrying a driver, a tour guide and tourists from China.
He said Wu Xi, the Chinese ambassador in New Zealand, was on her way to Rotorua.
“Our embassy will make every effort to help the Chinese citizens who have died and been injured in the accident,” he said.
Rescuers helped to free passengers who were said to have been trapped in the wreckage. Police said many were able to walk away from the scene.
Most of those on board are understood to have been from China’s Sichuan province.
St John ambulance service said three passengers were airlifted to hospitals – one in a serious condition. Another three were taken by ambulance for treatment.
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