A woman has described the terror at the scene of a bus crash that claimed the lives of two people and injured 44 others south of Gisborne last night.

The bus, carrying a school group from Tonga, went through a barrier and 100m down a bank on State Highway 2, 30km south of Gisborne near Wharerata, about 10.30pm last night.

Kristina Williams lives near the scene, and was alerted to the crash when a man drove to her home.

"He was absolutely distraught when he turned up to our house. He had a couple of the patients in the car with him.

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"We raised the alarm by calling the emergency services and then my brother-in-law and father-in-law and I jumped in our car and went to the scene."

She said it was completely pitch black, apart from the interior bus lights illuminating the wreckage at the bottom of the bank.

"From the edge of the road you could just see the inside of the bus lit up and you couldn't see the people from the top of the road but you knew people were down there.

"There was already a few cars at the scene but everyone was pretty ill-prepared. We managed to bring some head torches with us knowing what the terrain is like and that is densely thick bush."

Williams said the injuries were horrible, and she was surprised there was not more fatalities.

"They were all scrambling out in their traditional Tongan attire, the men were wearing skirts [taʻovala] and they all had bare feet and t-shirts on."

Williams was in the process of starting a Givealitte page to raise money for the group - who were here fundraising for their church.

"Their belongings were all strewn down the bank and they were just the loveliest group of people. They were all so thankful for everyone's help, it was just a shame we couldn't do more.

"Some couldn't speak English but they were all comforting each other and were very quiet and calm and thankful."

Williams said she was told that the bus had taken a wrong turn on the road into Gisborne from Hamilton, and ended coming up from the south instead of the Northwest.

The man who raised the alarm at her house was sent by the church to meet the bus in his car and lead them the correct way into town, she said.

It is understood one of the deceased people was a woman accompanying the brass band team from Mailefihi Siulikutapu College on Vavau Island.

The body of the second person was recovered this morning.

A St John spokeswoman said there was 41 patients treated in total, and 27 were transported to hospitals.

One person was critically injured, two people were seriously injured and three people were moderately injured, she said.

The rest of the patients had minor injuries, she said.

Some of the patients were airlifted to hospitals in Gisborne and Hastings and rest were transported to Gisborne by ambulance and a second bus that came to assist.

A statement from Gisborne Hospital said that 27 people were taken there.

"Eight people have been admitted to Gisborne Hospital and a further two were airlifted direct to [Hawke's Bay] Hospital."

Police officers are in the process of identifying next of kin.

They were on their way to Gisborne for a fundraising event and were being hosted in the homes of ex-students and other members of the Tongan community in Gisborne, said the statement.

They were due to perform at Christmas church services, it is understood.

Photos have been posted to a public Facebook page showing the school group at the scene of the crash and in Hawke's Bay Hospital.

Many people are sending their condolences and prayers to the group.

Michelle Lama said: "Our prayers and thoughts are with you all."

Evelini Ahosivi said: "Love to all those kids."

Aleki Tuipulotu said: "May God be with you all and may his healing hand be upon all of yous [sic]."

Members from the group not requiring hospitalisation or further medical treatment are now being accommodated by the local Tongan community, Methodist Church, and Victim Support who are caring for and comforting these people.

A police spokeswoman said: "Serious Crash Unit have attended and report that the extraction of the bus is likely to be challenging and may take a number of days to complete due to the terrain and availability of the necessary heavy equipment during the Christmas period."

The road is currently open to traffic.