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Five Tongan men killed in car crash in NZ, Tongan Community in mourning

Five Tongan men leaving their kiwifruit packhouse jobs Tuesday evening have been killed in a crash with an empty logging truck near Katikati, Bay of Plenty.

One of the men was based in New Zealand; the other four had come from Tonga for the season.

The names of five Tongan Kiwifruit workers killed in a crash overnight have been confirmed by colleagues.

They were Koli Vaipulu, Halani Fine, Sitiveni Vaipulu, Sione Teulaka and Samuela Taukatelata.

The men were pulling out on to the state highway after finishing their shift when they were hit.

The crash, just after 8 pm NZT  outside the Aongatete Coolstore, closed State Highway 2 for four hours, and police and fire crews with heavy cutting gear attended the scene.

Fire Service shift commander Paul Radden said it is not yet clear what caused the crash.

“Upon arrival the brigade found persons trapped in the vehicle. Tragically the fatalities are from the car.”

Radden said it is a relatively straight stretch of road, and police said the truck driver was distraught, but not injured in the crash.

Sawmill operator Kevin Ward lives nearby and his partner had just finished her shift working with the men who died.

“She just walked in the door and we heard a big bang.

“So I went out there and the car was pushed onto the opposite side of the road, up onto the bank, and there was nobody moving in the car.”

Ward said the men were pulling out from Dawson's Road to head north when the truck hit the driver's side.

The coolstore operator, Allan Dawson, said they are now contacting all the men's families in New Zealand and Tonga, and giving support to his workers, some of whom witnessed the crash.

“We're all just extremely distraught at the moment, we're all reeling.”

“I think it's all human error, there's a dip to the right, vehicles sort of suddenly appear out of that dip quite quickly and I guess that's what happened - they were trying to cross the road to turn right.”

"One of them had been working with us for eight years, others for various lengths of time."

The packhouse would be closed down for the day, he said.

The company was doing everything it could to inform the families in Tonga, and would provide financial support to them.

“There's some quite close ties between most of them in that group.”

Meanwhile, the Tongan community is in shock after five of their own, including a father and son, were killed in a horrifying crash near Katikati last night.

Sefita Hao'uli, who co-ordinates seasonal workers in New Zealand, says the four of the five workers are from Tonga, and the other is a local resident.

He will be briefing Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva this morning, who is currently in New Zealand on his first official visit.

Aongatete Operations manager Nell Dawson said the father was 44 and his son and the three other victims were all in their 20s.

“They were part of our family. They were all fine young men,” he said.

 Dawson said they would help get the men's bodies back to Tonga.

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