With graduation approaching next Sunday, a time for celebration turned somber Saturday at Boston University, as students who were packing up 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.
The university says 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 at about 7:30 a.m. near the North Island vacation town of Taupo when the vehicle drifted to the side of the road and rolled when the driver tried to correct course, New Zealand police said.
The three victims died at the scene, police said.
Another BU student, Margaret Theriault, was airlifted from the crash site to a hospital in Taupo and was in critical condition, the university said, while at least four other students sustained moderate injuries.
Brashears' mother, Julie, told the Boston Globe that he frequently posted 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 group.
Student body president Howard Male, a friend of Brashears, said the Boston University students had posted Facebook updates in anticipation of the trip, saying they hoped to view scenery captured in the "Lord of the Rings" movies.
About 250 students, faculty members and well-wishers gathered Saturday evening in Boston for a candlelight vigil.
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 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.
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, which indicated they may not have been wearing their seat belts.