A witness has told of "bodies all over the road" after a van carrying a nine-strong shearing gang rolled, after colliding with a tractor near Waipukurau last night.
At least five passengers in the van were thrown from the vehicle - three of which were flown to Hawke's Bay Hospital by the Lowe Corporation Rescue Helicopter and another rescue helicopters from Palmerston North.
Police believe seatbelts had not been worn by the occupants.
A Hawke's Bay Hospital spokesman confirmed eight people were admitted with injuries. A man in his 50s and a teenage female were critical while two teenagers, a 20-year-old male and a 40-year-old male had serious injuries. A teenage female and a woman in her 50s were both stable.
Emergency services were alerted to the smash, just east of Wanstead on Porangahau Rd, at 5.28pm and remained at the scene for more than three hours. Traffic was stopped either side of the scene and a makeshift helipad was set up on the road so the helicopter could land.
While she did not see the crash unfold, Wanstead resident Jen Dudson said there were "people everywhere" and "bodies all over the road".
"I guess everyone going home from work would have stopped. Everyone who thought they could have helped stopped."
"I'm not entirely sure what happened. There was just a shearing van that collided with a tractor," she said.
It is understood the van rolled when it was struck by a tractor that was turning. The witness believed the Toyota van driver had attempted to overtake the tractor and drove into its path.
The gang was working for The Shearing Company, owned by Waipukurau shearing contractor Neil Waihape. It was understood last night the shearing gang had just been working in a shed on Mangaorapa Station, a sheep station near Porangahau, and were heading back to Waipukurau in two vans. It was not clear whether the second van had been involved in the crash.
It happened at the busiest time of the shearing season in Hawke's Bay and large-scale Flaxmere contractor Colin Watson Paul estimated there could be as many as 100 vans carrying shearing gangs to work each day in Hawke's Bay this week.
"Considering that they are going out every day, long distances, in all sorts of conditions, there are very few accidents - but it is something we all dread," he said.
Last night's crash is thought to have been the most serious in the industry in Hawke's Bay since a shearer and a woolhandler died when a van carrying 12 people to work crashed in Southern Hawke's Bay 10 years ago.
A little more than two hours after last night's accident another helicopter was called to a second crash in Central Hawke's Bay, where a cyclist collided with a car in Hatuma, Waipukurau, at 7.42pm.
The cyclist, in his 30s, was reported to be in a stable condition.