A volunteer fire fighter has described the shock he felt when attending a horrific crash that claimed the life of his friend and four others at Katikati on Tuesday night.
Simione Vakasiuola told the Bay of Plenty Times soon after arriving at the scene he realised Halani Fine had been killed, although he did not want to believe it.
"I didn't know when I first got there but it did not take long until I knew it was him. I can't explain it to you, you want to see that he is alive but he is dead."
Mr Vakasiuola, the leader of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, said Mr Fine "was a very good family friend".
"He was a missionary in New Zealand and overseas and he was working with the youth in Katikati and Auckland. Halani was a very, very bright person with a high standard of expectations.
"His main mission in life was helping others, he was inspiring."
Mr Fine was also a talented musician, he said.
"That friend of mine, he can play the keyboard, the guitar and all sorts of instruments."
The men were all known in the Tongan community and it was "a very, very sad time and everybody is trying to console one another, because we are a very close-knit community".
The families were still waiting to hear from the coroner last night for the bodies to be released. "It is likely they will return to Tonga."
Meanwhile, Dawson Rd resident Kevin Ward, who lived only a few metres from the crash site, said he was at home on Tuesday night with his partner Chona Mangasep, who had just finished her shift at the cool store, when they heard an "almighty bang" and then total silence.
"I knew straight away it was really bad," Mr Ward said.
He rushed outside to the car and could see three bodies inside and another lying underneath it but could not see a fifth person inside the vehicle, and after shining his torch into the car he saw no signs of life, and immediately rang 111.
The three people dead inside the car were the driver, the front seat passenger and a man seated in the rear, but he could not see anyone else seated behind the driver, he said.
Mr Ward said most of side of the car was missing.
"It looked to me that the car must have bounced off the truck and shot up the bank, and it was clear the driver's side of the car had taken the full force of the impact. It looked like it had concertinaed. "It was quite a devastating scene."
Mr Ward said it was a "horrific and emotional" scene as other members of other Pacific Islands community began arriving, and it became clear that all the victims worked at the cool store.
A traumatised Ms Mangasep said she was afraid to go to the crash site because she could hear people crying and weeping.
When I realised the dead men were all my work colleagues I was devastated," she said Mr Ward said something needed to done to improve the stretch of road.
"This is not the first death on this road and it won't be the last," he said.
"I have seen lots of crashes on this stretch of road. I think they need to remove some trees to help improve the visibility, and we also need a dedicated right turning lane near this intersection, as you can't always clearly see southbound traffic, especially at night, until the vehicle is almost upon you."