The coroner findings into the deaths of a teacher and student killed in a crash near Reporoa have been released today.
Queensland teacher Andre Vogel, 36, and student Gabriel Runge, 16, were killed in November 2014 when the van Mr Vogel was driving crossed the centre line on State Highway 5, colliding with a milk tanker. Six other students and one other teacher from Noosa Pengari Steiner School Community were also injured.
During the inquest, held in November last year, Inspector Kevin Taylor told the court it had been deduced that fatigue was a major factor in Mr Vogel crossing the centre line.
New Zealand Army medical officer, Major Charmaine Tate, gave further evidence on the effect of fatigue. The group had just completed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and were returning to Rotorua when the crash happened.
Patricia Jeffree, the other teacher in the van, gave evidence via telephone and said at no point did she remember thinking Mr Vogel was fatigued.
In his findings, Coroner Wallace Bain said while the Runge family raised a number of questions about duties, care and negligence, the court "cannot consider, assess, or make any conclusions about the allegations of negligence or breach of duties that were levelled at Mr Vogel, Ms Jeffree and the school".
Some of those concerns were that Mr Vogel knowingly drove in a fatigued state and that there was no sufficient fatigue awareness training in place.
"Put simply, it was clear Mr Vogel had undertaken a number of physical tasks in the days leading up to the accident. In addition, he was one of the teachers in charge and had a number of additional duties associated with that. As identified by Major Tate, it seems he may not have had sufficient time for himself to recover.
"Having said that, it's clear to the court that he was a devoted teacher and devoted to the students in doing everything possible to make their experience a most memorable one.
"It seems clear however he did not act on the symptoms within himself leading to the drowsiness that occurred."
In his recommendations, Mr Bain said organisations and drivers "in general need to look at their driving protocols to see whether they are sufficient in terms of fatigue or drowsiness".
"There is a need for extreme care and vigilance when there is a physical activity such as hiking reasonable distances for several days prior to a road trip, and proper procedures are in place to ensure the driver is properly monitored."
Mr Bain recommended that his findings and the specific recommendations from Major Tate relating to driver fatigue be forwarded to the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Education to review and or establish specific policies for identifying and preventing driver fatigue.
As well as this, Mr Bain made the recommendation that as a requirement for outdoor education excursions, an observer in the vehicle is awake and observant at all times and trained in the signs of driver fatigue.