A moment of inattention has cost four lives and dramatically changed three others after the Queen's Birthday long weekend began horrifically on our roads.
The four dead had been travelling in van when they crashed into a heavily laden truck outside South Island town Ashburton yesterday.
A fifth person from the van was left battling for their life in hospital, while a sixth was rushed to treatment in a serious condition.
The truck driver suffered moderate injuries and was treated in hospital.
Crash witnesses described hearing a terrible bang and holding the hands of survivors through the damaged van's windows.
"This is an absolute tragedy," Police area commander, Inspector David Gaskin, said.
He blamed "a moment of inattention".
It appeared the van had gone through an intersection just as a truck was passing, he said.
Those inside the van were understood to be a group of adults, who had travelled down from the North Island.
Gaskin called it a terrible start to the Queen's Birthday long weekend.
He urged people to be careful, take their time "and remember tomorrow the sun will come up and make sure you get there to see it".
The only local involved was the truck driver, yet any death on local roads was one too many, Gaskin said.
"And crashes like these are also devastating for our staff and our local communities."
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people and families ... it's a tragedy for the district."
Police were called to the scene on Cochranes Rd and Wakanui Rd in Elgin, near Ashburton, at 9.30am with serious crash investigators also attending.
"I wouldn't like to pre-empt the decision or what happens in an investigation," Gaskin said.
"But it appears it happened at a crossroad where one vehicle has travelled through a controlled intersection and, unfortunately at that particular time, a fully laden heavy truck was coming."
One woman told Stuff she held the hands of two survivors after hearing a loud bang
"I just went to the van, and I could see that there were a few deceased. All I did was stand there with my arms in the window to comfort the other two that were talking until the emergency services got there" she said.
Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown was devastated a tragic crash had unfolded days after severe flooding struck Mid Canterbury
"We didn't need this on top," he said.
He called it a sad way to end the week and said the community's thoughts were with the families.
Inspector Gaskin added that crash had nothing to do with the area's flooding.
The crash came after a motorcyclist died at a busy Christchurch intersection earlier that morning.
Emergency services were called to the scene at Riccarton Rd and Hansons Ln just before 7am.
A car had been involved in the crash, while the serious crash unit was now looking into the incident.