BOSTON With graduation looming, a time for celebration turned somber at Boston University on Saturday, as students who were packing at the end of the school year learned that three classmates studying in New Zealand were killed when their minivan crashed during a weekend trip.
At least five other students were injured in the accident early Saturday, including one who was in critical condition.
Boston University spokesman Colin Riley said those killed in the accident were Daniela Lekhno, 20, of Manalapan, N.J.; Austin Brashears, 21, of Huntington Beach, Calif.; and Roch Jauberty, 21, whose parents live in Paris.
The students were traveling in a minivan about 7:30 a.m. Saturday near the North Island vacation town of Taupo when the vehicle drifted to the side of the road and then rolled when the driver tried to correct course, New Zealand police said.
Three of the students died at the scene, police said. Another woman was in critical condition at an area hospital, while at least four other students suffered moderate injuries.
Another BU student, Margaret Theriault, was airlifted from the crash site to a hospital in Taupo and was in critical condition, the university said.
Efforts by The Associated Press to reach family members of Lekhno and Brashears were unsuccessful Saturday. A person who answered the phone at the home of Lekhnos family declined to comment, and a message left at a phone listing for Brashears family wasnt immediately returned.
Brashears mother, Julie, told The Boston Globe that he frequently posted new photos on Facebook documenting his adventures in New Zealand, including bungee-jumping off the Auckland Harbor Bridge on his birthday. She said he planned weekend outings for the study-abroad group.
Everyone called him the cruise director, she said. He wanted to include everybody on the trips. He loved having an eclectic group of friends.
Student body president Howard Male, a friend of Brashears, said the BU students had posted Facebook updates in anticipation of the trip, saying they hoped to view scenery captured on film in the Lord of the Rings movies.
They were all so excited to be able to go explore what many guidebooks ... have called some of the most beautiful places on the planet, Male said.
Students, faculty and well-wishers were expected to gather Saturday evening for a candlelight vigil for the victims, Riley said.
This is a horrible tragedy, Boston University President Robert Brown said in a statement on the university website. Our prayers go out to the students and their families.
All of the students except Theriault were enrolled in a BU study abroad program in Auckland, the BU website said. Theriault was enrolled in a study abroad program in Sydney, Australia.
Sixteen students were traveling in two minivans, on their way to hike the Tongariro Crossing, a famous trek rated as one of the most spectacular in New Zealand. The hike crosses a volcanic crater in the central part of North Island.
None of the eight students in the second van was injured. Seven of those eight students were also from Boston University.
Kevin Taylor, a police official, said it was not clear why the van drifted to the side of the road. He said some of the students were thrown from the vehicle, indicating they may not have been wearing seat belts.
Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore said it was a terrible end to the school year. Commencement is scheduled for May 20.
This is an unusual time on our campus, Elmore said in a statement on the school website. We have a lot of people who are traveling and some people who are celebrating the end of final exams. Id like everyone to please take a moment to pay our respects to the families of those who have been killed.
Elmore said the school will provide counseling for those who need it.
Associated Press writer Nick Perry contributed to this story from Wellington, New Zealand; AP writer Rodrique Ngowi contributed from Boston.