Two members of one of Hawke's Bay's biggest shearing gangs were killed today and eight others taken to hospital after a van carrying 12 people to work in Southern Hawke's Bay crashed today.
Eight people, at least two reported to be in critical condition, were taken to hospital, and a mystery over the whereabouts of one person was not solved till more than three hours later at 10.15 when a man was found shocked but apparently unhurt in bushes near the scene.
The van, belonging to Dannevirke-based Paewai Mullins Shearing, had been travelling east and was rounding a right-hand curve when it left Weber Road, about 26km southeast of Dannevirke, and hit a stand of pine trees about 6.45am.
The two deceased, understood to be a young man from Opotiki and woman from Te Karaka, died at the scene.
St John Ambulance Service central region rural support officer Steve Ynko, of Palmerston North, said eight people were taken to hospital with moderate to critical injuries.
Both the Palmerston North-based Square Trust helicopters and Hawke's Bay's Lowe Corporation rescue helicopter flew to the scene. Ambulances were called in from Dannevirke, Pongaroa and Pahiatua, along with volunteer firefighters from Dannevirke, Pongaroa and Weber.
The two who were killed were understood to have been passengers seated near the sliding side door.
Police said the crash happened in dry weather, but mist and drizzle soon settled over the scene, as friends gathered and mourned.
Retired farmer Les Chandler did not hear the crash but was alerted when two injured passengers arrived at his door, and he called the emergency services.
Paewai Mullins Shearing is run by the successful team of Tararua district councillor Koro Mullins and wife and former national Maori businesswoman of the year, Mavis. Neither had been in the vehicle.
At the peak of the season they have been known to employ about eight gangs simultaneously in the lower North Island, and have held some of the bigger contracts, including Lochinver Station, between Napier and Taupo.
Mr Mullins, a former top open class shearer, is also employed as a shearing ambassador for a major shearing machinery firm and provides venue commentaries at competitions throughout the country.
His wife is a former champion woolhandler, and was recently named as the first woman manager of a New Zealand shearing team, to compete at this year's World championships in Toowoomba.
They have employed many of New Zealand's top shearers.