Emergency services staff tend to the injured.
Emergency services staff tend to the injured. Photo - Stephen Parker

Crash survivor thinks first of teachers and students

NICK Wallbridge was left fighting for his life after a horror van smash that killed his teacher and a classmate.

But the Queensland teen's first thoughts when he woke in Waikato Hospital's intensive care unit this week were not for himself.

They were for his mates.

His parents, Rod and Anne, had to deliver the sad news that two of those travelling with their son did not make it.

Noosa Pengari Steiner School teacher Andre Vogel, a 36-year-old father of two, and Gabriel Runge, aged 16, like Wallbridge, died when the van Vogel was driving collided with a Fonterra milk tanker 10 days ago on State Highway 5 near Reporoa.

They had been in New Zealand on a week-long school camp.

The tanker driver was discharged from hospital that day, but seven others in the van were hospitalised.

Worst injured was Nick. A rescue helicopter flew him to Waikato Hospital and his parents and eight-year-old brother flew from their Coast home to be at his side.

Gabriel Runge died in a crash during a school trip in New Zealand.
Gabriel Runge died in a crash during a school trip in New Zealand. Facebook

As the others were discharged from hospital and boarded flights home to Australia last Sunday, Nick remained in the intensive care unit.

By early this week though, "all his tubes were out" and he was "speaking and eating", Noosa Pengari Steiner principal Allen Kloeden said yesterday.

"He's got a little bit of internal damage to be monitored, but he's woken up and is talking to his parents," he said.

Wallbridge's parents had shared his first words, Mr Kloeden said.

"They said the first thing he asked was, 'How are the other staff and students?' His parents did tell him (two died) and that was a bit hard for him. But lots of people have been there with him."

Although in a lot of pain, Nick had already started physio, and his mother was proud to report his manners had come through the crash unscathed.

"His mother says that he still remembers his pleases and thank-yous," Mr Kloeden said.

Teacher Andre Vogel was driving the van that collided with a tanker truck.
Teacher Andre Vogel was driving the van that collided with a tanker truck. Facebook

 

A hospital spokeswoman confirmed last night that Nick remained in a stable condition.

Mr Kloeden said Nick's parents did not know when he would return to Australia.

"They're talking several weeks ... but they don't know if he'll stay until he's discharged or if he'll be medically evacuated back to a hospital (in Australia)," he said.

"The medical experts will work with our care people about that."

Nick's younger brother was likely to be enrolled in a Steiner school for a couple of weeks in Hamilton, NZ, Mr Kloeden said.

Teacher Tricia Jeffree and the other students injured in the crash, which was still being investigated by police, were also doing well, he said.

It was not yet known when the funerals would be held for Gabriel Runge and Andre Vogel.

Gabriel's parents returned with his body on Friday night and two of Mr Vogel's brothers brought his body back yesterday.

Mr Vogel's partner, Liv, had remained in Noosa with their young daughters, Mr Kloeden said.

"She's being well supported, but it's a big struggle of course," he said.


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