Christmas bus crash tragedy: Rescuers were 'helpless' to save victims

One of the first rescuers on the scene of the bus crash near State Highway 2 south of Gisborne on Christmas Eve has told Newshub of the desperate efforts to provide first aid in the dark.

Kristina Williams lives nearby, and when a crash witness turned up on her doorstep she didn't hesitate to help.

"We got word by one of the members of the church who was leading the bus into Gisborne in his own vehicle. He obviously witnessed what happened. There were his relatives on the bus and his friends," says Ms Williams.

"There was no cellphone coverage and he must have been on autopilot and come directly to our house."

Ms Williams says she grabbed first aid supplies and went to the crash site to help.

"At the top of the road there was only the bus windscreen left. The rest had disappeared down the bank. It was just strewn with their belongings," she says.

"There were already bystanders who had come across the crash. Everyone was real helpless. The gradient of the steep cliff as well as how dark it was, (there) wasn't much people could do."

As the victims worked their way up the rescue group brought head-torches to be able to scramble down and help.

"Once we got down there all we could do was reassure people, try to keep people warm," she says.

"They could not stop saying thank you to us, and we were helpless really. We weren't doing much really, just standing with them and reassuring them. They were just lovely, lovely people, and it's such a shame."

Ms Williams says the experience broke her heart - which is why she's set-up a crowdfunding page to help the crash survivors.

"That's why we've started this Givealittle page. I'm sure there's going to be Kiwis throughout New Zealand wondering what we can do to help in a time of need like these people," she says.

"We are personally going to make sure every penny goes to helping these people and their family."

A vigil is expected to be held for the victims at 8pm on Sunday night at the Wesley Methodist Church in Gisborne. Alfred Ngaro and other Tongan dignitaries are expected to be in attendence.