Hong Kong driver dies in New Zealand after van plunges into river

Nine relatives escape as family holiday ends in tragedy on country's South Island

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2014, 4:04am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 September, 2015, 10:43pm

A Hong Kong tourist died while nine of his relatives escaped after the van he was driving crashed into a one-lane bridge and plunged into a river on New Zealand's South Island yesterday.

Local media reports say the passengers helped free each other from the sinking van, but the driver could not escape.

The group were on their way from Queenstown to scenic Milford Sound when the accident happened on Nokomai Road, Mid Dome, yesterday afternoon. They are believed to have taken a diversion down a gravel road to take pictures before the accident, which saw the vehicle plummet into the Mataura River.

Three people were flown to Southland and Dunedin hospitals with spinal, head and chest injuries. Another uninjured passenger accompanied one of them to Dunedin. Five more were taken to Southland Hospital by land.

Southland said six of the patients it had taken were released last night, with a seventh said to be in a stable condition. A Dunedin Hospital spokeswoman said the injured patient taken there was also in a stable condition.

Six of those involved, including the driver, were from Hong Kong, one was from Guangdong province and the three others were Chinese with Canadian passports, Li Xin, China's vice-consul in Christchurch, told Xinhua. They were all members of the same extended family.

Chinese and Canadian diplomats were yesterday assisting New Zealand police. Hong Kong's Immigration Department was following up on the case.

China has emerged as the second-largest source of visitors to New Zealand after Australia, with 220,000 mainland tourists visiting last year according to figures released last month by New Zealand Tourism, an increase of 16.2 per cent year on year. Some 28,000 Hongkongers visited New Zealand in the year to December, a 6 per cent increase on 2012.

Li told local media last month that a growing number of Chinese tourists were opting to explore the country's rugged scenery themselves rather than joining groups. The vice-consul said there was a need to address a lack of understanding of rules of the road, safety and conditions in New Zealand among Chinese tourists.