A major rescue operation is underway after a bus carrying at least 15 people crashed six metres down a bank into water in Tongariro National Park this morning.
A police spokeswoman confirmed just after 10am a woman, initially trapped and partially submerged in water, had been freed from the 20-seater bus.
She was breathing and conscious during the ordeal, the spokeswoman said.
St John district operations manager Steve Yanko said two people had moderate to serious injuries and were being flown by rescue helicopters to Rotorua and Hamilton hospitals.
It could not be confirmed if the woman was one of those people.
Eight people with minor to moderate injuries are being taken by ambulances to Taupo. The remaining passengers – up to 15 were believed to be on board the bus – were being assessed.
The crash occurred at the intersection of State Highways 47 and 48 about 8.10am.
SH48 is the road that leads to Whakapapa Village and Mt Ruapehu in the Central North Island.
Five ambulances and a St John operations’ manager were at the scene, and two rescue helicopters were at a staging post nearby, Yanko said.
Police and fire were working with search and rescue to carry the injured out and up onto the road to waiting ambulances, who were then ferrying the injured to waiting rescue helicopters.
Rain and low cloud prevented helicopters landing at the site of the crash.
A Philips Search and Rescue Trust spokesman said two helicopters were waiting five minutes drive away, at the junction of SH46 and 47.
Another helicopter is on the way, and the serious crash unit is also at the scene.
The injured had been staying at the nearby Chateau Tongariro Hotel resort.
Chateau general manager Kathy Guy said those on board were guests of the tourist attraction.
“All the staff are currently involved with the emergency services so at this stage we are just letting them so their jobs and we will have more information when they are able to provide it.”
The Chateau did not have its own shuttles or buses, but those involved in the crash were guests, she said.
Whakapapa Holiday Park staff member Jonathan Steven said earlier his father, who operates a shuttle bus and is a volunteer firefighter, had been asked to pick up passengers from the crashed bus.
“His role is to get the passengers onto [his] bus … at the moment there’s a lot of rain and the winds are strong. It’s nasty weather this morning.”
Authorities are reporting the crash occurred at the state highways’ intersection, but others in the area have said the crash happened on the Whakapapa side of the national park, possibly near The Chateau Tongariro Hotel.
The area is popular with tourists, especially those wanting to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Tour operators have cancelled their operations on the crossing today due to 90km/h winds and 40mm rain.
A staff member at Skotel Alpine Resort in Whakapapa Village said the weather was “cloudy and misty”.
The wind was picking up and it was cold, she said.