Sione Taumalolo was missing home as he performed around New Zealand for his school fundraiser, but the 11-year-old was someone who always put others before himself, his sister says.

In the days before he died in the Christmas Eve bus crash near Gisborne, he kept messaging his sister, Jupitta Taumalolo Smith, and reminding her of the Mailefihi Siuʻilikutapu College brass band's next performance.

It was to take place on Christmas Day in Gisborne.

"He was very excited ... he was very proud of being in the band."

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Her brother was the sixth of their parents nine children and was "quiet, kind and smiley", she said.

"He always put everybody before himself."

There was a 10-year age gap between the pair and she would always remember her brother as "one of the babies".

Last moments together remembered

Taumalolo Smith lives in Auckland and spent time with her brother when the band played in Aotea Square the week before Christmas.

"It was a touching moment, to see each other after all these years. We spent time with the group and I last talked to him on Monday or Tuesday. He kept sending me things reminding me of his next performance."

Since the crash she had travelled to Gisborne, where she was joined by another sister and several aunties.

She had been told her brother was found to be missing after a roll call took place at the crash scene.

"My little brother was nowhere to be found. His body was found under the bus."
Family did not have any concerns about the time it took to find Taumalolo's body, she said.

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"We are just happy that his body was found."

Sione Taumalolo and Talita Moimoi Fafita died in the bus crash. Photo / Facebook.
Sione Taumalolo and Talita Moimoi Fafita died in the bus crash. Photo / Facebook.

Police said the scene of the crash was very difficult as it was dark and down a steep bank. The delay in finding Sione isn't thought to have been a factor in his death.

Once Sione's body is released by the coroner, he will be flown to Auckland, most likely on Wednesday. From there he will be returned to Tonga for his funeral, but it was not yet known when that would take place.

Her parents were struggling with their loss, Taumalolo Smith said.

"I know our mum, she's broken. And my dad is trying to be strong for all the family."