Five Seventh-day Adventist students died and another 11 were injured when the 36-seat vehicle that they were riding ran off the road in the South Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea.
The accident, blamed on engine failure, occurred around midday Dec. 28 as the students were returning from an Adventist student convention organized by the regional organization Sepik Adventist Students Associated, or SEASA.
Four young women were among the dead.
“Parents of the four girls who died are strong supporters of the SEASA ministry,” said Elias Jaramo, president of SEASA. “They are pillars in their local churches, too. We are praying for peace for the grieving parents.”
The four female students are Jessica Akai, a high school student from Wewak; Deborah Barry, from Lae Timber College; Lorlaine Gawi, from Port Moresby Technical College; and Agessa Niangs from PNG University. The identity of the fifth student was not immediately clear.
The 11 injured students were rushed to Boram General Hospital in Wewak, capital of the country’s East Sepik province. Five of the students were in critical condition requiring surgery, while the six others were treated for less serious fractures and injuries to the head.
Several Pacific Adventist University students were on the vehicle, but only Ricah Waiu, a first-year education student, was injured. He has since been discharged from the hospital.
Details about the accident are sketchy. The local Post Courier newspaper reported that the crash occurred after an engine failure.
Papua New Guinea has a poor road safety record. A bus fell off a cliff in Papua New Guinea’s western highlands in April 2013, killing at least 24 people. In the country’s worst accident, two buses collided head-on in January 2010, killing 40.
In January 2015, a group of Pathfinders escaped a close brush with death when a bus overturned in front of their vehicle as they traveled to the airport to fly to a camporee in Australia. No Pathfinders were injured, but several bus passengers were killed.
Local church leaders have pledged support for the families of those who died in this week’s accident and to care for those who were injured. A committee of church members from the Adventist congregations in Wewak has been formed to assist in any way they can. The committee is calling on church members and the community to contribute to medical expenses and funeral costs. Pacific Adventist University has also promised assistance, and churches in Papua New Guinea’s capital, Port Moresby, are holding fundraisers.
A team of Adventist doctors has traveled to Wewak with medical supplies to assist in treating the injured, and former SEASA members have arrived to support and encourage the SEASA community.
A joint funeral for all five students has been scheduled in Wewak for Jan. 7.