Busy day for Northland chopper - school bus crash and ship rescue

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KAEO CRASH: Two children in a utility vehicle were injured but no pupils on the Kaeo school bus were hurt in the crash. Photo/Lindy Laird
KAEO CRASH: Two children in a utility vehicle were injured but no pupils on the Kaeo school bus were hurt in the crash. Photo/Lindy Laird

A rescue chopper on its way to airlift two injured people from a ship, was diverted to a crash which left two children injured after the vehicle they were in collided with a school bus carrying about 11 youngsters.

Northland Rescue Helicopter was on its way to lift two injured seamen off a container ship about 450 nautical miles off New Zealand's north coast when it was diverted to the crash on a rural road, 7km west of Kaeo, to transport the boy, aged about 9 or 10, and his mother to Whangarei Hospital yesterday morning.The woman, who had been driving the late model ute when it collided with the bus at about 7.50am on Omaunu Rd, suffered pelvic injuries and the boy had abdominal and neck pain.

A girl aged about 13, who was also in the vehicle, was taken by ambulance to Bay of Islands Hospital in Kawakawa.

None of the children on the bus were injured but emergency services officers at the scene said some were "fairly shaken up".

Both vehicles were damaged at the front, and the bus window had burst out on impact. All airbags in the ute had activated, and no one was trapped.

A Kerikeri St John spokesman said the fact the family in the ute were all wearing seatbelts and it was a late-model vehicle probably prevented worse injuries.

The school bus had been travelling west, away from Kaeo, on the morning pick-up run before looping back to Kaeo Primary School. The ute was heading towards Kaeo when the crash occurred on a tight bend.

Another bus was sent to the remote site but most of the children were taken to school or home in groups by parents called to the scene.

Kaeo police Constable Richard Avery said the crash would be investigated. Mr Avery said a more serious school bus crash in such a location would be "a nightmare".

Police, ambulances and fire crews from the mid-north area attended. A fire appliance that had been on its way from Kerikeri was stood down before it reached the scene, Kaeo fire chief Lindsay Murray said.

Northland Rescue Helicopter chief pilot Pete Turnbull said his crew had been on their way to airlift the two injured seamen from the ship. Bad weather and concerns about the distance saw them turn back to Kaitaia to refuel before continuing the mission.

That was when the Kaeo crash call came in.

The helicopter took the boy, accompanied by his mother to Whangarei Hospital where they refuelled and then headed off-shore to pick up the men from the ship, the ANL Elinga.

Mr Turnbull said the men had been injured during the "rolling of the ship" and said it was about 11.30am when they left Whangarei Hospital to head to the ship which was about 125 nautical miles from Kaitaia Hospital. He said they ended up getting a bit closer by stopping in Cape Reinga where they refuelled using fuel kept in Jerrycans.

"There was a healthy swell making the ship roll a bit. The captain adjusted the course of the ship so he advised us on the radio he could turn the ship a few more degrees and it calmed the ship down a bit and made the winch a bit easier," he said.

Mr Turnbull said there "very very strong winds offshore".

The call for medical help had come from the ship late on Monday night. It was on route to Sydney, Australia and had to turn back to make it easier for the Northland Rescue Helicopter to reach it.

Mr Turnbull said the two men, one who had moderate injuries and another who had minor injuries, were transported to Whangarei Hospital.

- Northern Advocate

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