They were sons, moko, brothers, best mates.
They were loved. And on Friday, in an instant, four Southland teenagers were lost forever.
Police are still working to piece together how the Ford ute they were travelling in collided head-on with a concrete truck on an inner-city street in Invercargill just before 4pm on Friday.
Emergency services converged on Queens Drive after the crash and were “shook” to find the four teens dead in the cab of the ute.
Three of the boys were 16 and from Bluff.
The fourth was a 17-year-old from Invercargill.
Footage of the immediate aftermath of the crash seen by the Herald showed members of the public, including an off-duty surgeon and nurse, frantically clambering onto the wreckage to try to help.
A woman who climbed on the back of the ute and reached through a broken window to try to save the life of one of the boys had only seconds earlier swerved to avoid colliding with the ute herself.
“Let’s get this guy out,” she could be heard saying in the footage, posted on social media but since removed.
“They’re the only person that’s gonna live.”
As the back door was wrenched off with a crowbar, one bystander said to the boy in the back “hang in there mate”.
“How many’s in the car?” a person shouts.
“Four or five,” another answers.
Paramedics then rush to the scene and take over.
None of the boys survived.
As of last night their names had not been formally released and police said their families were still advising people of the tragedy.
Tributes and photos have been posted and shared widely of the boys whose deaths have shaken the Invercargill and Bluff communities.
“I’m sitting here writing this with tears in my eyes. Gone but not forgotten, taken too soon along with everyone else,” said one friend.
The family of another boy spoke of his death on Facebook.
His brother posted a photograph of them together, captioned: “Fly high little bro, I love you so much.”
Their mother then wrote, “rest in love baby boy”.
Another relative said: “There are no words to express how I’m feeling. I’m absolutely heartbroken, I will miss you so much mate. Love you forever.”
And the sister of another victim posted the last photo she took with him.
“Fly high little brother. Literally no words right now. Just lost,” she wrote.
The Herald has contacted family members but they were not ready to speak publicly.
The driver of the concrete truck also declined to comment.
He was not injured in the crash and was doing “okay” yesterday.
The Herald understands he spent time on his own at the scene of the crash Saturday afternoon after police lifted the cordon and reopened the road.
The after-impact footage shows the driver screaming and jumping out of the cab window before walking to the side of the road, incredibly distressed.
Yesterday, flowers were placed at the scene, with a note that read: “Rest in love boys. For ever grateful to be able to know you all.”
One of the first people on the scene said he will never get the faces of the victims out of his head – and after losing his own daughter in a fatal crash last year knows what their parents will be feeling.
Logan Lalovaea and his wife were parked at Queens Park about 20m away from the crash.
He said he heard a big bang and then the truck’s brakes.
Lalovaea ran to help and started filming, thinking the information he captured may help police later.
His own daughter died in a crash last year and his instinct was to document what had happened from the start.
“When I first saw the ute I just knew there would be no survivors,” he said.
“The truck driver was very, very upset – understandably. I feel really sorry for him.”
Lalovaea said it was “very traumatising”.
He cried while speaking to the Herald on Sunday and said: “It’s not something you ever want to see. I didn’t sleep [Friday] night … seeing those boys, they must have died instantly. It was very brutal.
“It was pretty horrible. I lost my daughter, my only child in a car crash last year – so seeing something like this was traumatising.
“I’m still grieving the loss of my daughter and then to see something like this … I keep seeing those young boys’ faces.”
Lalovaea said he knew in part what the boys’ families would be going through today.
“You can’t imagine what it’s like to get that phone call from the police. I really do feel for the families and I also feel for the truck driver and his family – he is going to suffer big time.
“Lives lost right in front of him. Hopefully he’s got good support.”
The investigation into the crash is ongoing and Southland Area Commander Inspector Mike Bowman said it was “a tragedy”.
“No words can explain our sympathy to the families and the wider community,” he said.
Bowman revealed the scene “shook up all the emergency services involved”.
“It was a horrific scene. But our emergency services deal with this, unfortunately, day-in, day-out.”
He urged anyone who saw the crash, especially anyone with dashcam footage, to contact police urgently.
He said it was too soon to speculate about the cause of the crash.
It was one of a number of fatal accidents across New Zealand this weekend.
One person died after a crash at the intersection of Western Hills Drive and Douglas St inWhangārei at 9.30am yesterday.
Another life was lost after a two-vehicle smash on Arapaepae Rd (State Highway 57) in Levin early yesterday morning.
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