All three people who died in a road crash near Whakatāne today were working for the contracting firm Higgins - two as employees and one as a contractor.

Ross Taylor, the chief executive of Higgins' parent company Fletcher Building, said the two people injured in the accident were also Higgins contractors.

"Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the families and friends of the three people who died and two who were injured in a traffic accident in the Bay of Plenty this afternoon," he said.

"Two of those who died were part of our Higgins business and one was a contractor working for us, while the two injured were contractors.


"This is an absolute tragedy, and we are moving to offer our support to those affected and to our people in the area.

"We are working with police and other authorities to establish the circumstances around this accident."

A driver at the scene said a crane had been called to lift a truck because one of the three dead had been trapped underneath it.

The driver was told that a rental truck ran into Higgins contractors who were clearing a culvert by the side of the road.

"All of us truckies have parked up just waiting. There's about a dozen trucks here waiting.

"All the ambulances are here, the cops, everyone is here. It's pretty much being patient and waiting."

It has now been confirmed that four separate trucks were involved in the crash.

Two of the trucks appear to have fallen in a ditch by the railway lines, a crane is now working to pull them out

Police are still on the scene of the horror crash. Photo / George Novak.
Police are still on the scene of the horror crash. Photo / George Novak.

Three people have died at the scene.

The Serious Crash Unit is in attendance and the road is likely to be closed for a number of hours.

Police are asking that anyone who witnessed the crash please contact Whakatāne Police on (07) 308 5255.

"In particular, we would like to speak to a paraglider who was above the scene of the crash when it occurred."

Police would like to thank the public in advance for their patience and assistance.

One person with moderate injuries was earlier transported by helicopter to Tauranga Hospital and another person with minor injuries was transported by road to Whakatāne Hospital.

The NZ Transport Agency said State Highway 2 was likely to remain closed until at least 6.30pm and motorists should allow 45 minutes for diversions.

Diversions are currently being put in place.

A resident at Pikowai, about 2km away, said State Highway 2 was closed at Matata.

"We've seen helicopters coming and going, we've seen two," he said.

Traffic is at a total standstill near the scene.

A firefighter at the cordon said the diversions have been mucked up meaning a lot of people are coming to the road closure and being turned around. He said the road will be closed until tomorrow.

A number of disgruntled motorists have been seen storming out of cars.

Otamarakau School principal Andrea Dance said the Pikowai bus was able to get to its destination but not as far as the accident, however, its shuttle could not get through.

''We had phoned before the shuttle had left just to advise them there had been an accident but our parents are so proactive some had already phoned us, too. Then we phoned them to say we were going down in the shuttle, as we were told at the beginning as some vehicles might get through sporadically.''

''Now parents are doing it in convoy ... and put the children into cars and going the back way around as the road is closed.''

Dance said, ''hopefully it is none of our parents or somebody that we know.

''But it's a horrible feeling to know there are fatalities and they are not far from a school. Now we are trying to keep everybody calm and just making sure our children are safe and contacting all their parents.

''The children have all been set up on some biscuits and they are waiting for their parents so they are good.''

Resident John Burt, whose property is located near the crash scene, said he was driving out of his driveway about 2pm when he noticed a motorist flagging down traffic.

Emergency services arrived shortly after and blocked off the road. Traffic was banked up on either side of the crash site, which was about one-and-a-half kilometres from his property.

Burt said also saw a paraglider flying overhead and heading back towards Pikowai.
"I hope it wasn't a distraction," he said.

In a statement, police said they would like to speak to a paraglider who was above the scene of the crash when it occurred.

Burt had lived in the area his whole and said it was the worst crash in a "long time" in the area.

"It's a straight bit of road," he said.

Motorist Anahera Iopata posted photos on Facebook of traffic banked up at the scene.

Accident along the matata str8s, road closed 4 a lil bit, idk how bad it is or wot sort cars they r, but 1 vehicle...

Posted by Anahera Iopata on Monday, 25 February 2019

"Don't ask me 2 go hav a look either, because that's a bit disrespectful, emergency services r hea don thea thang so im stayin by my car w8n," he wrote.

"Traffics bakd right up, choppers jus turned up, mus b pretty bad, looks like we gona b hea a yl.. these the only pics u getn, even tho its about 10 cars up from me, soz but i dont get down like that, hope evry1 involved is ok."

Higgins Contractors referred queries about the accident to their owners, Fletcher Building, which said it planned to make a statement soon.