Three Boston University students studying abroad in New Zealand were killed and five from BU were injured when a van in which they were riding swerved off a road just outside the town of Taupo, officials said.
The accident occurred around 7:30 a.m. New Zealand time Saturday, which was Friday afternoon in the Eastern time zone, according to a statement on Boston University’s website.
According the New Zealand police, Daniela Rosanna Lekhno, Roch Jauberty, and Austin Brashears were killed in the crash. The students’ ages and hometowns were not made available.
”This is a horrible tragedy,” said Robert A. Brown, Boston University’s president. “Our prayers go out to the students and their families. We will do all we can to provide comfort and assistance to those who have been injured, and to the families and friends of the victims. The university is mobilizing all of our resources to help our students and families deal with this tragedy.”
David Baker, director of the international office that oversees the study abroad program for the University of Auckland, said he believed about 47 BU students were in New Zealand for the program.
Two seven-seater minivans were carrying people for a day trip to walk the Tongariro Crossing, a famous hiking path, he said.
Early indications from the scene showed that one of the minivans drifted left onto gravel, overcorrected, and then rolled over, Kevin Taylor, a road policing manager inspector for the New Zealand police, said in a statement.
Taylor said police did not know why the vehicle drifted on Lake Rotoaira Road.
Officers could not confirm if the occupants were wearing seat belts, but police said that the fact that some students were thrown from the vehicle would indicate at least some were not restrained.
Two of the Boston University students who died were studying at the University of Auckland, and the other BU student was at the Auckland University of Technology, Baker said.
He said a number of staff from Boston were with the students.
On the BU campus in Boston late Friday night, students reacted with sorrow as word spread about the students’ deaths.
”It’s really sad and tragic that it happened right before graduation and abroad,” said Erika Smith, a senior who learned of the fatal accident from BU’s Twitter account.
Dan Salgarolo, a BU senior, learned of the accident on Facebook.
”Any time something like this happens, my heart goes out to the family,” he said. “I’m sure the university will tell us as soon as they have more info.”
Bryan Fleurjuste, another BU senior, screamed when he heard the news from Salgarolo.
“It’s kind of shocking because I know someone in the New Zealand program this semester,” he said
Salgarolo said the New Zealand program is a popular study abroad offering.
Bobby LeBlanc, a junior, was saddened by the news.
”That’s really horrible to hear, especially considering all the news at BU lately,” he said. “My prayers and thoughts go out to them and their family. So tragic.”
Baker said that the University of Auckland will work to support students through this difficult time.
”There’s going to be a lot to do, not only with the survivors of the accident but with the rest of the group,” Baker said. “Obviously they’re a long way from home, and they’ve got no family there.”
New Zealand police said that a woman in her 20s was taken to Waikato Hospital in Hamilton, New Zealand, in critical condition and two women were taken to Rotorua Hospital in Rotorua with moderate injuries, police said.
Also, one man and one woman, both in their 20s, were being treated at Taupo Hospital for minor injuries, police said.
Colin Riley, a BU spokesman, said there probably will be a memorial, but that decision is at the discretion of the students’ families. “We always defer to the families on those issues,” he said.
The Auckland study abroad program has added additional counseling services, the BU statement said. Two New Zealand universities associated with the program - the University of Auckland and the Auckland University of Technology - have also extended their counseling services to BU students abroad.
Officials at the Auckland University of Technology could not be reached for comment.
In the BU statement, dean of students Kenneth Elmore noted that this has been a difficult year for the university. A BU student was shot and killed in Allston this year and several assault incidents have occurred involving students.
”This is an unusual time on our campus,” said Elmore. “We have a lot of people who are traveling and some people who are celebrating. I’d like everyone to please take a moment to pay our respects to the families of those who have been killed. I hope every one in our community knows that if anyone needs assistance, counseling is available in person and on the phone.”
Taupo is on the North Island of New Zealand, sitting roughly midway between Auckland and Wellington.