Brittany Keogh is a reporter for the New Zealand Herald

Gisborne bus crash: Tevita Lokotui's long road back

Tevita Lokotui, 19, had to have his leg amputated at the knee as a result of a Christmas Eve bus crash near Gisborne, which killed three Tongan nationals. Photo / Hawke's Bay Today
Tevita Lokotui, 19, had to have his leg amputated at the knee as a result of a Christmas Eve bus crash near Gisborne, which killed three Tongan nationals. Photo / Hawke's Bay Today


A teenager from the Tongan island of Vava'u is still in hospital more than a month after he was seriously hurt in a bus crash which claimed the lives of three members of the group he was travelling with.

Tevita Lokotui, who is head prefect at Mailefihi Siu'ilikutapu College and plays the tuba in the school's brass band, is recovering in Middlemore Hospital after having his left leg amputated at the knee as a result of the Christmas Eve smash.

Lokotui, other members of the band and their chaperones were travelling around New Zealand, performing fundraising concerts to raise money for the school when the rented bus they were in smashed through a road barrier and careened 100m down a bank on State Highway 2, near Gisborne.

Forty-four people, including Lokotui, were injured in the crash. Mailefihi Siu'ilikutapu College pupil Sione Taumalolo, 11, and 33-year-old chaperone Talita Moimoi Fifita died at the scene.

Leotisia Malakai, 55, who was a tutor at the school, died eight days later from the injuries she sustained.

The brass band's conductor, Siokatame Tupou, 46, said Lokotui was doing well after undergoing surgery.

"He's okay. He's good. He's strong."

The other survivors of the crash, many of whom were also injured, are supporting the 19-year-old, visiting him in hospital as he recovers after the life-changing injury.

They are nursing their own physical, mental and spiritual wounds from the trauma of the crash and will remain in New Zealand with their friend and student until he is ready to return to Tonga.

Many, including teenagers as young as 15, have made incredible progress since the crash.

They are being cared for by the minister and congregation of Vaine Mo'onia, a Tongan Methodist church in Grey Lynn, Auckland. Several still require outpatient treatment, which is covered by ACC, and all have been provided with counselling to help them deal with trauma.

Tupou, who among the most seriously injured in the crash, was discharged from hospital last week. He is still recovering from severe wounds requiring skin grafts to his right leg and is on crutches.

The survivors were supporting one another and were focused on healing and moving forward from the tragedy, he said.

"I don't know what happened. Only God knows what happened. But we believe in him. We just look forward now, to go on. Don't look back to the accident​.

"We feel sad because three of us died. But that's how it is. The youngest one of my group died and the oldest lady died. I think God took them because he needs them more than us."

They're still in the dark about what went wrong that night. The police are yet to speak publicly or to the survivors about the circumstances surrounding the crash.

The police refused to comment when approached by the Herald on Sunday this week because the investigation was still "ongoing".

The survivors' strong Christian faith has influenced their recovery, which is focused on spiritual healing as well as physical and emotional healing.

"It was hard for me after the accident, but we think in Tonga, in the church and the culture, everything's from God," Tupou said.

"So we try to keep on [going]. Especially my kids... I feel sorry for them. [But] I thank God that he kept us alive. We've had a loss but we thank [God] for everything we have." ​

Tupou said the group appreciated the helped they had received from everyone who had supported their journey to recovery - including ACC staff, the doctors and nurses who had treated them, members of Vaine Mo'onia who had fed and clothed them and the emergency service personnel who rescued them from the wreckage.

"Thank you very much for giving us everything. You gave everything that we need...We hope that God gives you good strength and a good heart to keep on [with] the good things, for working with people who come to New Zealand."

- NZ Herald

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