EMOTIONS ran high as the Noosa Pengari Steiner School students involved in a fatal crash on Friday returned home from New Zealand yesterday.
As five students and teacher Tricia Jeffree were welcomed home by relieved families, the school community continued their outpouring of grief at the loss of 16-year-old Gabriel Runge and outdoor education teacher Andre Vogel in the crash.
Gabriel and father-of-two Mr Vogel were killed when their van collided with a Fonterra milk tanker on the narrow State Highway 5 on their way to Rotorua.
New Zealand central area commander Graham Fuller said three fire crews from Rotorua raced to the scene and were at the crash site for about two hours.
Mr Fuller said some victims were trapped and had to be cut from the vehicle.
One student remains in a critical condition at Waikato Hospital.
His mother and father have flown to New Zealand to keep a vigil at his bedside.
Suzannah Pritchard-Laborie, who has strong ties with the Noosa Pengari Steiner School community, said community members had "connected" with one another in this emotionally draining time.
"I can't imagine what it would've been like for (the students) to be there with two teachers, one dead and the other injured," she said.
"At least they were all in the same ward.
"It makes me, on a personal level, not want to separate from my child."
The class of seven Year 10 students had chosen to visit the North Island for a week to discover the native bushland on an adventure camp.
They had just completed their final challenge, the popular Tongariro Crossing in the Bay of Plenty, when the accident occurred.
New Zealand police are continuing to investigate.
A police spokeswoman said it appeared the hire van, driven by Mr Vogel, 36, had crossed the centre line and collided with the milk tanker.
"The reason it crossed the centre line is still to be established through the investigation," she said.
Officials from the Australian High Commission in Wellington and the Australian Consulate-General in Auckland were responding to the crash, with survivors receiving consular support.
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