By 3 News online staff
Three New Zealanders killed in a vehicle crash in Kenya, that also claimed the life of a Kenyan driver, have been named.
They are married couple Brian and Grace Johnston, and Caitlin Dickson - a former student of Tauranga's Bethlehem College.
They were part of a group of 19 New Zealanders – 12 students and seven adults – who were on a volunteer trip organised by the college to Ark Quest School in the small village of Ma’hanga. The group left New Zealand on December 28.
Bethlehem College principal Eoin Crosbie issued a statement this afternoon saying that the group were travelling in a minivan and a car back to Ma’hanga from the city of Kisumu in heavy rain when the fatal accident took place.
“The minivan lost control, rolled and ran into a ditch. The driver, a Kenyan associated with the Ark Quest Academy was killed in the accident,” says Mr Crosbie.
Other passengers in the van suffered injuries, however none are understood to be life-threatening and the group are now together in a private hospital in Kisumu.
Mr Crosbie says school staff have visited the Johnston and Dickson families this morning, and that they have asked for their privacy to be respected while they grieve.
“This tragedy will touch the lives of many in this community as these were all wonderful people who served others first as part of their expression of their Christian faith,” he says.
Arrangements are now being made to bring the group back to New Zealand as soon as possible, including the deceased.
Speaking to media in Hawkes Bay, Prime Minister John Key said the victims’ next-of-kin had been notified, and that his thoughts and condolences were with the families.
Mr Key said the closest New Zealand Consulate staff are based in South Africa, and are now on their way to Kenya to support the group.
Bay of Plenty community mourns loss
People have begun leaving condolence messages on a Facebook page set up to inform people about the school’s missions trips.
“Grace and peace to all involved in the midst of a horrible tragedy,” posts Joseph McAuley.
“Our prayers are with all the families impacted.”
In a statement issued by the Bay of Plenty District Health Board (DHB), chief executive Phil Cammish says Mr Johnston and his wife will be sorely missed.
“Today is the anniversary of Brian starting his career with the Bay of Plenty District Health Board, where he has been a dedicated member of staff for the last 26 years,” he says.
Mr Johnston worked as an anaesthetist in both Tauranga and Whakatane.
“Brian and Grace have also been described as ‘being woven into the fabric of the Bay of Plenty’ and will be sorely missed. They leave behind a large family and a number of grandchildren.”
College had strong relationship with Kenyan school
Bethlehem College, a private Christian school for students from years 1 to 13, has a partnership with the Ark Quest Education Centre in Ma’hanga Village, western Kenya.
Prior to the departure of this most recent trip, the school had run a second-hand clothing sale and a movie night to raise funds.
Mr Crosbie says Mr and Mrs Johnston and Ms Dickson had all been to Ma’hanga before.
“[They] were passionate about the ministry that was being offered, through building a strong caring Academy in this very needy community,” he says.
Information on Bethlehem College’s website promoting the next trip to Kenya at the end of 2013 says students help with painting and construction to improve the facilities at Ark Quest.
“There will be a strong focus on building relationship with the community and being part of village life,” the website says.
The Kenya trip is one of a three volunteer service projects students can participate in overseas.
“Bethlehem College has been in partnership with Ark Quest School for over two years and has similar partnerships in the Solomon Islands and in Tonga,” says Mr Crosbie.