A close friend of Picton crash survivor Luie Lagud is holding out hope he'll return home as the 16-year-old remains in a critical condition after the crash that claimed the lives of seven of his family members.
The friend and fellow youth group member is also paying tribute to Luie's brother Mark, saying the pair were like "twins" before the latter's death on Sunday.
There was hope for the Pukekohe High School student as family told the Herald today's surgery was successful.
Nine members of the Lagud/Brown family were driving north on State Highway 1 near Picton when their large van collided with a truck travelling south, killing seven in the van and injuring the truck driver.
Married couple Diseree and Paul Brown died, along with their son Mark, 14.
Diseree's sister Devine Dolar died, along with her daughter Flordeliza Dolar, 19.
Diseree's eldest son Pedro survived, but Pedro's partner and 10-month-old baby died.
The group had travelled from Auckland to Dunedin for a relative's funeral.
Speaking exclusively to the NZ Herald yesterday, Diseree's son David Lagud, 21, told of his shock at hearing seven members of his family had died "in the blink of an eye".
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At last report, Pedro was in a stable condition. He was reportedly able to walk, albeit with difficulty.
The other survivor, Diseree's son Luie, was in a critical condition.
However, family members had told the Herald this morning that Luie's surgery in Wellington Hospital yesterday had gone well.
Back in Pukekohe, friends were nervously awaiting news of his condition.
Luie and Mark were members of the Oxygen Youth Pukekohe group, run through the local Elim Christian Centre, of which Diseree and Paul were regular members.
Bailey Booth, daughter of church pastor Darryl Booth, was the youth and children's pastor and led the group Luie and Mark were part of.
She spoke of how the brothers were near inseparable since they joined about six years ago.
"You didn't know Mark without Luie and you didn't know Luie without Mark," she told the Herald.
"They might as well have been twins."
Both were joyful boys, Booth, 25, said. Mark was more reserved of the two, while Luie was renowned for his giggling.
The pair were also leaders for the church's younger members - often managing groups of up to 10 primary school-aged children in activities and games.
Booth described the pair as very reliable and active participants in the various activities the youth group took part in.
The youth group provided a rich environment to forge friendships for the Philippines-born brothers, particularly given more than half the group had not been born in New Zealand.
Learning the pair had been involved in Sunday's tragic crash was tough to comprehend for Booth and the youth group.
"A lot of them are shocked," she said.
The news had reached Booth less than 24 hours after her grandmother Ngaire, 81, died in Middlemore Hospital after an 18-month battle with cancer.
Despite losing such a close family member, Booth noted how Mark's death had hit her just as hard.
"Nan had lived a long life and she was sick and we were ready to let go.
"Then you have Mark and it was far too young, complete accident, no goodbyes - I was almost more shocked about that."
Booth had immense empathy for Luie, who could face a life without his "twin", but she was reassured he would be well-supported.
"No one would ever replace Mark but he has, in this church, many brothers here and I'm confident they would step up for him.
"In this time, people can wrestle with what God is in this scenario, how he can let these things happen, but I would say to [Luie], 'Just come back', because there's a whole community and friends who will help him figure out what the next step is."
This wasn't the first time the Elim community had been hit by tragedy - six Elim Christian College students and one teacher died in a flash flood while canyoning on the Mangatepopo River near Turangi in 2008.
Booth said youth pastors from that time had reached out to her with ideas for how she could assist members through their grief.
The family had arranged an area for the public to pay their respects in front of the Pukekohe church and it was already adorned with photos and flowers.
In conjunction with Pukekohe High School, Elim was assisting in providing counselling services for those affected by the tragedy.
Booth's family was among the many who had donated food and resources to the Lagud and Brown families.
With Luie's future still uncertain, Booth hoped she and the group would get the chance to welcome him home and assist in his recovery.
"I expect all of us to gather around him and cry, not pretend it didn't happen and then over time, you integrate back into society."