El Arish crash victims building a better life for families in Vanuatu

THREE seasonal fruit pickers who died in a head-on highway collision were working in the Far North to build a better life for their families back home in Vanuatu.

About 50 people gathered at the at the El Arish crash site today to lay flowers and remember the men, who were pronounced dead at the scene after the minibus they were in crashed head-on into a semi-trailer on Saturday at 2.30am.

The two other male passengers, aged 24 and 35, were discharged from Innisfail Hospital today.

The group had lived at Diggers Creek Caravan Park for the past few months.

Police were still trying to identify the bodies and contact the families today.

The men worked for Seasonal Work Australia, a Victorian labour-hire company that provides workers from the Pacific Islands to farms across the country.

The company’s general manager Kevin Khiev said it was his “worst nightmare”.

“They were here to earn good money, to go home to Vanuatu and buy a house and have a better life,” he said.

“We are hoping there are any family or relatives that can assist with identifying the body, even by letting us know what they were wearing when you last saw them, or any tattoos they may have.

“We have done everything possible to try and provide assistance but there are limitations as an employer — This has never happened to us.”

The 64-year-old male truck driver from Tully was uninjured.

The Cairns Forensic Crash Unit has not determined a cause of the crash and called for witnesses who may have seen the vehicle driving between Tully and Innisfail after Friday midnight to come forward.

Cassowary Coast Deputy Mayor Wayne Kimberley, who runs the El Arish Tavern, said the community was in shock.

“It’s a horrible thing to happen,” he said.

“Everyone knows everyone in the region. It’s an absolute tragedy.”

Senior Constable Lee Chamberlain said the Toyota had been travelling north towards Innisfail when it collided with the semi-trailer in the southland lane of the Bruce Highway.

“It was very wet when I was there most of the night,” he said.

“I don’t know if it was raining at the time.

“My understanding is that the road surface was wet at the time of the crash.”

That part of the Bruce Highway is no stranger to fatalities.

Last year two people died at the Cowley Beach turn-off, about 20km north of El Arish,

A 2016 report found the section of highway from Ayr to Cairns is one of the most deadly in the country — with 26 deaths and 511 casualty crashes from 2010 to 2014.

The 137km stretch from Ingham to Innisfail, which takes in El Arish, had 156 casualty crashes and eight deaths.

But Cassowary Coast Mayor John Kremastos said the area had not been highlighted as a “problem spot”.

Source: www.cairnspost.com.au