Two preschool children were among a family from overseas who were injured by a falling tree in Queenstown this afternoon, police have confirmed.
Five people were sitting underneath the tree on the riverbank near Shotover Jet base at Arthurs Point Rd when it fell about 1pm, the company said.
A St John spokesperson said two people were critically injured and another suffered serious injuries.
Two others had moderate and minor injuries.
Police said emergency services were called about 1pm. Three helicopters and multiple ambulances attended the scene.
A witness saw a child being loaded into a chopper.
One of the critically injured patients was airlifted to Dunedin Hospital, while the other four were taken to Lakes District Hospital, St John said.
Detective Senior Sergeant Malcolm Inglis confirmed the injured included a family of four, including two preschoolers, from overseas, RNZ reports.
However, their ages and nationality had yet to be confirmed, he said.
Stuff reports that the two children are brother and sister.
Ngāi Tahu Tourism runs the Shotover Jet and its spokeswoman Kirsty Phillips said the tree had fallen on the bank of the Shotover River, injuring five people who were sitting underneath it.
"All are believed to be conscious ... they are being assessed by emergency services and will be taken to hospital. The wellbeing of individuals is paramount and our focus is on supporting them, their whānau and our team."
A reporter at the scene said the large tree, which was beside the outdoor café area at the Shotover base, had fallen over with its roots completely ripped out.
There were park benches below the tree and it had fallen directly on at least one of them.
As well as the child taken in the chopper, the reporter said it looked like another child and an adult female had also been hurt.
"One guy was absolutely beside himself. The fire brigade and police had to hold him down basically," he said.
The Otago Daily Times reporter said it was "really windy" and gusts were blowing up dust across the site.
"You can barely stand up when a gust comes. You are pretty much cowering to the ground," he said.
Staff at the base were visibly stressed.
Another person at the scene described it as "absolute chaos" after the tree, estimated at more than 15 metres tall, came down.
Inglis said police were gathering evidence and investigating what happened.
The large, old willow tree gave up in the strong winds, he said, collapsing where a family were watching the Shotover jets leaving.
"They've had no chance to get out of the way of the falling tree," he said.
"It was the wrong place, unfortunately, at the wrong time, and it was a tree that has been there for a long time."
Inglis praised the response of Shotover Jet staff and bystanders.
"Obviously there was a large, heavy tree lying on top of the family and to extract them was not easy.
"They did a great job of getting the tree up and off of the family and administrating medical assistance while they waiting for ambulance to arrive.
"They all did a great job in reacting to the accident," he said.
Inglis said winds were strong today - and people need to take extra care in the area.
The Shotover base has been completely locked-down. A group of people coming back from a boat ride were directed past the fallen tree.
Shotover Jet has issued an alert on its website saying that it is closed for the rest of the day.
Jimbo Paterson, owner of Mangy Moose Lodge near the Shotover Jet site, said there were now cones around the fallen tree.
Paterson said they had winds of up to about 50-knots gusting up the valley and big poplar trees were bending over - he was hoping they wouldn't go too.
A severe weather watch for northwest gales is in place in Central Otago and Southern Lakes.
The watch is in place from 1pm until 6am tomorrow and westerly winds may rise to severe gale in exposed places.
Metservice meteorologist Lisa Murray said observations at Queenstown Airport have shown mean wind speeds of 20km/h with gusts up to 52km/h.
Murray said there were places that could be more exposed to wind gusts that weren't under official observation.
A WorkSafe spokeswoman said they had been notified but the incident did not fall within their jurisdiction.
A Department of Conservation spokesperson said the tree was on conservation land, in an area subject to a commercial lease.
"We are currently determining who is responsible for maintenance of trees in this location. In the meantime, our thoughts are with those affected by this accident."
- Additional reporting, Otago Daily Times