Five people are dead and three children are seriously injured after two vehicle crash near Taupo on Friday described by an ambulance officer as "one of the worst" he had seen.
Four of the dead were in a van which burst into flames and two of the three injured children, age nine and three, were pulled from the blazing vehicle by an off-duty policeman who had to be treated for burns to his hands and arms.
The crash occurred when the van and a car collided on a bend on State Highway 1 at Wairakei, 1km north of Taupo, at 4pm.
The fifth dead person was in the car but an 11-year-old girl was pulled from the wreckage and airlifted to Waikato Hospital. She was on Saturday morning reported to be in a serious but stable condition in the intensive care unit.
The off-duty policeman has been taken to Taupo Hospital for treatment to burns on his arms.
St John ambulance area manager Graham Harvey said it rated "up there" as one of the worst he had seen.
"Any road traffic crash which involves serious injuries and fatalities is not nice," he said.
"...Once you start getting multiple fatalities, it makes it very hard to deal with."
Harvey said that when he arrived the car was in the middle of the road, surrounded by debris. The van was down a bank, still burning.
He said members of the public, especially the off-duty officer, were instrumental in preventing further deaths.
"There were bystanders all over helping with the passengers. It's just the Kiwi way, isn't it? They did bloody well."
Sheep farmer Geoff Bamber had just arrived at his home near the crash scene when he heard a loud bang.
"As soon as I got out of the car I heard a massive boom, boom and a kid screaming," he told the newspaper.
He ran back down his drive with a fire extinguisher, But he was stopped by the off-duty policeman who had rescued the two children.
"He told me to stay back, stay back, that it was too late for them," Bamber said.
"It was just terrible - it was just a big ball of flame, you couldn't even see what sort of vehicle it was."
The road was closed for five hours as police investigated the crash scene.
Three other people also died in a black 24 hours on the roads including a 45-year old man following a crash in West Auckland early on Saturday.
Inspector Christopher Tate of northern police communications said the accident happened on Waitakere Road, Taupaki, about 1.28am, when the man lost control of the Isuzu Bighorn Stationwagon he was driving and crashed into a power pole.
The man, who was the only occupant, died at the scene.
A 73-year-old Nelson man died after a two-car collision in Nelson on Friday night.
Inspector Alan Weston, of Nelson CIB, said the two cars were travelling on Atawhai Crescent when the accident occurred at 6.20pm.
Two other people from the crash were treated at Nelson Hospital.
A female Chinese student was killed in a crash on SH1, north of Taihape, Friday morning.
The student, who was studying at Palmerston North, was travelling with two other Chinese students when their vehicle collided with another car, police said.
Another passenger in the car was injured and the driver of the other vehicle was also taken to hospital.
The deaths take this year's road toll to 123. At the same last year, it was 114.