RNZ, Auckland, July 29, 2018
A passenger who was on board a bus that crashed near Turoa Skifield, killing a young female, says that the brakes failed.
The bus coming down Ōhakune Mountain Road on its way to the Turoa Skifield, rolled yesterday afternoon (Saturday, July 27, 2018).
The young woman, who has yet to be formally identified, died late last night. She was one of 31 people on board.
A 20-year-old man, and two women, aged 29 and 31, were airlifted from the site and remain in a stable condition at Waikato Hospital.
Yesterday was Fenella Murphy’s first time on the Ruapehu Alpine Lifts bus.
She said the bus sped up as it went down the Ōhakune Mountain Road before rolling and crashing into a bank.
Loud, honking noise
Five minutes into the journey, the bus started making a loud honking noise, she said.
They then started to pick up speed, and every time the driver stepped on the brakes, air would gush out, she said.
“There were people at the front of the bus asking ‘Are the brakes working? Are the brakes working?’ There was no answer from the bus driver, I think he was just in shock and didn’t know what to do. We figured out as soon as the bus was sort of picking up speed the brakes weren’t working,” she said.
Preparing for the worst
Ms Murphy said she was preparing for the worst.
“[The bus] must have hit the side of the hill somewhere on the right and then flipped left and rolled, I’m not sure how many times, but we ended up on the left side of the bus.
“So I was sitting on the right hand side, so everyone on that side had fallen down on top of everyone on the other side,” she said.
Ms Murphy was still in shock, but escaped without injury.
Chief executive of Ruapehu Alpine Lifts Ross Copland said that he was visiting the family of the deceased today to offer his condolences.
“An absolute tragedy when you have a loss of life, particularly a young person so our thoughts and prayers are absolutely with the family… myself and our chairman will travel up there today to meet with them, in terms of support, we will discuss that with them.”
The bus driver was treated for minor injuries at Whanganui hospital and Mr Copland said the driver was not in a condition to speak about the incident yesterday.
“When we have the opportunity we will have a debrief with him and understand from his perspective what took place.”
The Police’s serious crash unit and commercial vehicle safety team are now investigating how the bus came to be lying on its side.
“In terms of actually understanding how and why that took place, that’s a pretty detailed process that police and serious crash unit are working through now. I also spoke to the Department of Conservation and the Ruapehu District Council yesterday and they’ve got an engineer going up on site to look at the road,” Mr Copland said.
The possibility of a mechanical fault has not been ruled out, he said.
Ruapehu District Mayor Don Cameron said that the community had been left shaken.
He said deaths on the mountain itself happened every few years, but rarely on the surrounding roads.
Turoa Skifield is closed today as a sign of respect to the family of the deceased but also to give the ski field staff time to debrief.
“It was a pretty challenging thing to turn up to – a mass causality site – and a lot of our front-line crew responded to that yesterday so it’s important that we take the time to work through that,” Mr Copland said.
A police spokesperson said the bus has been removed taken to Whanganui to be examined.
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The bus is still on its side and a salvage team will work to remove it. (RNZ Picture by Gia Garrick)
RNZ, Auckland, July 29, 2018