Fatal crash claims two Samoans in Australia

Two Samoan seasonal workers perished in a horrific head-on collision in Australia on Sunday.

According to reports by the West Australian Newspaper, the fatal crash occurred in the early afternoon, in Australia's westernmost state. 

"The crash involving two four-wheel-drive vehicles happened just before 2 pm, about 10km north of Old Yanchep Road, north of Perth," the newspaper report read. 

"Witnesses described the horrific scene, with the front end of both vehicles smashed and what appeared to be the engine of one pushed back into the cab. 

"It is understood both of the deceased were traveling in the white dual cab utility that appeared to have the most damage. Other people involved in the collision are believed to have escaped with minor injuries."

The two men were named by the West Australian as Ken Lafo and Asoone Ropeti, both aged 33. Repeated attempts to seek comment from the West Australian Police were not successful. Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs referred queries to its Government's employment Ministry. 

But Western Australia Police Inspector Gary Lewis told local reporters: "There were numerous people first at scene but obviously the remote location made it hard for first responders to attend".

A helicopter was sent to the scene of the crash but later withdrew, local reports said. 

While witnesses described the crash as a head-on collision investigators are still investigating its cause. The incident occurred on the Australian Father's Day holiday. 

The road the men were travelling along, Indian Ocean Road, has a notorious reputation for car accidents. 

Attempts were also made to seek comments from Lemalu Nele Leilua, Assistant Chief Executive Officer for the Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L), who is in charge of the Recognised Seasonal Employment Scheme but was told that Lemalu was out of the office. 

But the Pastor for the Assembly of God church at Fusi Safata, Pastor Ta'ei Ti'eti'e, who is also the Chairman of the Committee who oversaw the group of seasonal workers from Fusi Safata, that included the two deceased men, spoke on behalf of their families and village. He confirmed their identities and spoke of the devastation that their family members are experiencing. 

Pastor Ta'ei told the Samoa Observer that it was the Samoan Consul in Australia who broke the news to him; that Sua Ken Lafo and Asoone Ropeti were the victims of a fatal car crash in Australia. 

"I received the call while I was in Apia," Pastor Ta'ei said. 

"I was shocked when I received the sad news; it was hard to believe and accept. I had to go to Fusi and inform the news to our committee and village. 

"I didn't think or expect something like that to happen; it's something that was far from our minds."

Pastor Ta'ei also confirmed that M.C.I.L. informed them of the accident and that the Assistant Chief Executive Officer of M.C.I.L. had visited the men's families to offer their condolences. 

According to Pastor Ta'ei, the two Samoan men were part of a group from Fusi Safata who departed to undertake work Australia in November 2019. 

The group was organised by Pastor Ta'ei and a selected Committee from Fusi Safata. Initially, they were supposed to return back to Samoa in May this year. 

However, due to COVID-19 and travel restrictions they had to extend their stay in Australia and were due to return back in May 2021.

Pastor Ta'ei said he had already visited the families and he was profoundly moved by seeing their grief.

"One of the deceased has a wife and children, while the other is single," he said. 

"I visited both families and they are all going through a tough time right now and it's heartbreaking to see them in tears. 

"We all feel for them. I have comforted them but they are grieving and what has happened really affected not just their families but the village as well. 

"When things like this happen, you cannot help but feel sad. You don't have to be related to them to feel their pain, we all feel it. When a loved one is taken too soon and when something unexpected happens: it just breaks your heart."

Pastor Ta'ei remembered the two men as "gentlemen" and "hard workers."

"When we were planning the trip for these men to go and work overseas, I was tasked to look into the applicants and select whoever I thought were the best people to get the opportunity," he said.

"One of the core criteria we looked at is good behaviors and attitudes. And I assure you that these gentlemen were well-mannered and good people. 

"They were eager to go out and work for their families. They wanted the opportunity so badly, so they are able to support their families and further develop their families.

"They worked hard the past few months and I thought they did a marvelous job in providing for their families. 

"This is why it's hard to accept the sad news because they will be sorely missed and we have lost two great men."

Messages of condolence from families and friends in Samoa and abroad flooded social media.

One of Ken Lafo's cousins posted videos of herself crying, singing, and mourning the loss of her beloved relative. 

Another family member, Uesa Siliva, posted : "Your voice keeps echoing in my mind. How can I ever forget you?"

Last month, another Samoan seasonal worker died in New Zealand after the car he was in crashed. That country's Government is now making preparations to return the body of  Vaetasi Selesele Asiata to Samoa. 

Australian authorities are understood to be considering their options to do the same in the wake of Sunday's crash. 

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