Anna is a reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Katikati horror crash: 'That's a decision that cost them their lives'

6 comments

On the last night of their lives, the five men ate dinner together.

They were sharing ota ika, traditional Tongan marinated raw-fish, one of the dishes the men shared on their half-hour break from work.

They were good friends, and always sat together, outside, even in the middle of winter.

They joked and enjoyed each other's company. Their native Tongan language used to ring through the Aongatete Coolstore onear Katikati.

It was 5pm.

Three hours later they were dead.

Sitiveni Vaipulu, 44, Koli Viapulu, 21, Halani Fine, 28, Samuela Taukatelata, 28, and Sione Teulaka, 21, had just left their work when the car they were travelling in collided with a southbound logging truck, killing all five men.

The horror crash sent shockwaves throughout the community.

The men were turning right out of Dawson Rd onto State Highway 2 towards Katikati.

Emergency services were called at 8.10pm.

Three days later, their manager and colleague Clive Exelby provided an insight to who they were, what they did, and what happened on their last day.

The men, who packed kiwifruit, began Tuesday just like any other day.

Sitiveni Vaipulu, also known as 'Beani', had been at the coolstore for eight years.

Beani and his son, Koli came to New Zealand to provide for their family.

Sitiveni ran the automated pellet strapping machine and was very good at his job.

He was always the go-to man when anything broke down.

Koli was in his second year at Aongatete. The keen rugby player supervised tray making for the kiwifruit.

Exelby said: "He was a really lovely guy. Very gentle, and he's very much like his father. His father is very tall, very quiet, very reserved, but once you get to know them they open up a bit and they love having fun, always pulling tricks on one another and laughing and joking."

Halani Fine, 28, was a stacker, along with Sione Teulaka, 21.

The men would label kiwifruit trays, stack them onto pallets and move them to be strapped.

Fine was saving up to finish Bethlehem Tertiary Institute studies to become a counsellor.
Teulaka was working to look after his family and build a house for his child.

His brother-in-law Samuela Taukatelata, 28, was also saving to build a home.

He too was a traymaker, but usually worked nights.

Samuela struggled with his English, but was a hard worker, and good at his job.

On Tuesday, they spent their break together, like they usually did.

Exelby said it had just gone 8 o'clock when the workers finished.

Beani, Koli, Sione and Samuela usually took the company-provided bus home, but not on Tuesday.

"That was a decision that ultimately cost them their lives," Exelby said.

Workmate Riza Maria followed their car out of the carpark, when she saw the truck, "and then the flash of lights from them".

"It was like a bomb".

Exelby said even yesterday morning there were Tongans out by Aongatete Coolstore, who were standing in the rain, singing.

"There have been lots of cars and trucks go past, and they toot, toot, toot, which is something we hadn't noticed before," he said.

He said many of the Tongan workers wanted to go back home on Wednesday, but decided they would stay and work, and would donate the money to the family.

Work at the coolstore would resume on Monday, after a karakia and a moment of silence to remember the men.

Victim support counsellors would be helping friends and family at the coolstore, and a promise to hold a farewell the boys would be kept for the remaining workers.

Exelby wanted to thank the local police, fire brigade and the hundreds of people who had given their condolences.

It had helped them get through the week, and he was sending thoughts and prayers towards Tonga.

For more articles from this region, go to

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 28 Sep 2016 11:48:23 Processing Time: 70ms