Members of Ngāi Te Rangi gave thanks at Ratana Pa today for their lucky escape from a Manawatu bus crash.

A service at 11am was partly to thank supporters, including the church, for help after the accident.

The Secretary General of Te Haahi Rātana, Piri Rurawhe, said there was a big effort from parishes in Whanganui and Palmerston North.

"Some of them on the bus are adherents to the Rātana church. They're coming here to give thanks to God for watching over them and getting them through this ordeal and to ask for blessings on their trip home.

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"And yes it's an acknowledgment of the support that the church and movement has given them in this time."

The 19 people on board the bus escaped with minor to moderate injuries.

"A sense of relief came over us when we had done the numbers and counted everybody was out," Josh Te Kani, who helped at the crash scene, said.

"People were injured, lying under fire blankets and as many blankets as we could find."

Members of Bay of Plenty iwi file into the church at Ratana Pa for the service. Photo / Bevan Conley
Members of Bay of Plenty iwi file into the church at Ratana Pa for the service. Photo / Bevan Conley

Te Kani is being described by many as the hero of yesterday's crash.

He was in the first car after the bus, about 20 metres behind it when it went off the road.

"You're looking at the back of the bus. The back of the bus starts to veer, it crosses the centre line, it takes a beeline straight off the road into a deep ditch.

"It rolls as it takes the corner of the road. It falls over and rolls in front of my eyes and comes to a stop belly up smoking in a creek. It's probably something that will stick with me for a little while."

"We pulled over straight away ... dove straight into a whole lot of brambles and thorns and into clay. We just kicked into overdrive."

With the help of a passenger inside the bus they were able to break out the back window.

"We could hear people murmuring and a bit of moaning going on as well, people were obviously injured on the inside. We couldn't quite see everybody at that stage. The bottom of the wreckage was filling up with water."

A lot of the younger people were at the back of the bus and came out relatively unscathed.

Te Kani said they were concerned about the elderly who were at the front and submerged in the water.

"One of our kuia ... right down to the back of the seat, she found just enough space for her nose to be able to draw air as she was being weighed down by baggage and another passenger beside her.

"They were able to locate her and get her out of there soaking wet and covered in mud."

One iwi leader described his actions in the seconds after the vehicle went off the road with 19 on board as "hulk-like".

Ngāi Te Rangi Iwi Trust chief executive Paora Stanley commended Te Kani's actions.

"He ripped the bus apart in a hulk-like fashion."

They got the majority of people out through the back window that had been broken out.

Te Kani praised one member of the public who was driving past and donated a car full of blankets to keep people warm.

The bus lies crashed into a ditch on State Highway 1 SH1 at Rongotea. Photo / Merania Karauria
The bus lies crashed into a ditch on State Highway 1 SH1 at Rongotea. Photo / Merania Karauria

Maatai Ariki Kauae Te Tuki was on board the bus when the accident happened.

"In the first spin, I felt around, I'm going 'we're still alright, we're here'.

"Then I felt the bus go again. I said we all need to brace ourselves because we don't know about that next, when the bus comes to stop what can happen to us."

Kauae Te Tuki said he told the driver they had to get out quickly so some of the more elderly had room to get out.

The side they were sitting on in the bus ended up in the water in the ditch.

"I said to our driver, because some of our nannies were in the water, 'you and I need to move along to get out of the water, we can't help our family, there's others coming to help'.

"I just yelled out to the nans and said 'you'll be alright'.

He said the bus also had problems with a tyre on the way to Wellington earlier in the week.

They managed to change it in Marton to arrive safely in Wellington for yesterday's protest outside Parliament.