One of the first on the scene of a horrific triple fatal crash near Whakatāne says he arrived to see "damage everywhere" and people so distressed that they were vomiting on the roadside.
Four trucks were involved in the crash on State Highway 2 at Pikowai, near Matata, yesterday afternoon.
The three people who died in the crash and two others who were injured were all working for contracting firm Higgins. It's understood they were clearing a culvert by the side of the road and were hit by a truck.
Eastern Bay of Plenty police Sergeant Ray Wylie confirmed this morning the three people killed were not in a vehicle when they were hit.
He said a paraglider who was believed to have witnessed the crash has now come forward but was yet to be interviewed.
A man who was fishing at Pikowai Beach when the crash happened said he heard the sirens first.
"I came out to have a look it was damage everywhere," said the man.
Higgins workers were sitting on the side of the road "in shock".
"People were actually throwing up on the road."
He said there were several vehicles at the scene. The one that was most damaged was a Kiwi Waste Disposal pump truck, or sucker truck, with a "very crushed in cab".
"There was a blanket or a sheet or something over the cab of the pushed-in truck."
He said there was a skid mark on the road and a furniture truck in the drain.
"I don't know who that belonged to but it looked that had skidded and then toppled into the drain.
"He must have got hit from behind as well. There was furniture and debris spread all the way across the railway tracks, down into the bushes."
One of the trucks involved belonged to Awakeri operator Kiwi Waste Disposal.
Business owner Ryan Moloney confirmed members of his team had been part of the works when the crash happened but none had been injured.
"Obviously you can imagine everyone is shocked. It's very real [for us]."
Moloney said the business was taking time out today to support those involved who had been badly shaken by the incident.
Kiwi Waste Disposal had been contracted to Higgins, he said.
A reporter at the scene this morning said few traces of the crash remained.
She said it was a straight piece of road with a narrow verge between the white line and the deep culvert.
Two people injured in the accident have been discharged from hospital.
A 57-year-old Kawerau man was treated and discharged from Whakatane Hospital and a 46-year-old Tauranga man was treated and discharged from Tauranga Hospital.
Last night Trustpower TECT Tauranga Rescue Helicopter pilot Todd Dunham, who flew the man to Tauranga Hospital, said the "horrific" crash scene was one of the worst and "most chaotic" he had seen in his nine years flying for the service.
The three people who died in the crash and two others who were injured were all working for contracting firm Higgins.
Dunham said three road workers were hit by a "truck coming down the road and now they've lost their lives".
He said the truck that appeared to have hit the road workers also struck a Higgins truck, tipping it upside down into a ditch.
The other truck that had been "opened up like a can of sardines" was also in the ditch.
Ross Taylor, the chief executive of Higgins' parent company Fletcher Building, said two of those who died were employed by Higgins and one was a contractor working for the company, while the two injured were 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.
"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."
Police said an investigation would determine the circumstances surrounding the crash. Police asked for anyone who witnessed the crash to contact Whakatāne Police on (07) 308 5255.
NZ Transport Agency Bay of Plenty system manager Rob Campbell said the organisation would receive the police and Worksafe reports once completed.
"Until that investigation is complete it's not appropriate to speculate on the factors which may have contributed.
"As is the case with all fatal crashes on the state highway system, we will also carry out our own review of the road and roadsides, from a safe system perspective."
A Worksafe spokesperson said the agency was not involved in the investigation.
She said Worksafe would only be involved if the police had concerns through their investigations that Worksafe should look in to.