Caitlin Dickson. Photo supplied
Caitlin Dickson's passion and commitment to help others
was so strong that when she heard Bethlehem College was
organising another volunteer mission trip to Kenya she had no
hesitation about joining.
"She saw the opportunity and put her hand up," one of the
school's teachers, Linda Anderson, told the Bay of Plenty
"She was always thinking about others and how she could
better their circumstances."
But it was to be a trip that would ultimately cost Caitlin
Tributes are pouring in for the 19-year-old former Bethlehem
student and for Tauranga couple Brian and Grace Johnston
after they died when their dream trip turned to tragedy on a
rain-soaked Kenyan road.
The driver of the mini-van they were in lost control in heavy
The vehicle rolled and ran into a ditch on Kenya's notorious
Nairobi-Murang'a highway at 11pm on Tuesday.
The trio were part of the Bethlehem College mission
partnership programme with Kenya's Ark Quest School in
Mahanga, and among a group of 12 students from the school,
accompanied by seven adults.
"It's a little village school that's had nothing, but through
our visits and financial support, we've managed to build a
strong network and helped kids top the league tables with
their school results," said Bethlehem principal Eoin Crosbie.
The group left New Zealand on December 28 for a four-week
volunteer project building classrooms for the impoverished
They were just days away from returning home.
The tragedy has left their families and the Bethlehem school
community in mourning.
Mrs Anderson, Bethlehem's head of drama, said Caitlin got so
much out of her experiences in Kenya in 2011 that she wanted
She remembered Caitlin as having a lovely personality and
someone who enjoyed helping people in need, including shaving
her head to raise money for the teenage cancer support
Caitlin's first trip to Kenya was as a college senior
This time the trip was on her own account.
Mrs Anderson also had fond memories of Caitlin's enthusiasm
as a drama student.
"She loved Shakespeare. She was the queen who reigned over a
Shakespeare competition at school. She loved her drama and
was very good."
Caitlin was also a regular helper at the school's mission
fundraising sausage sizzle at the Tauranga Farmers Market.
One of the people hurt in the accident, associate principal
Philip Russell, had been the organiser of the sausage sizzle
for many years.
The market's manager, Trixie Allen, paid tribute to the work
of Mr Russell and his team of student helpers who were there
rain and shine.
"They do a brilliant job raising funds for the mission work.
They are a brilliant bunch. I'm sure it will be a very
low-key barbecue this Saturday," Ms Allen said.
On Caitlin's Facebook page, friends paid tributes last night.
On a photograph of the former student a friend had written
"you have to be an angel".
Laurence Matthew Dean posted: "I refuse to believe that I
will ever meet a woman with such a staggering zest for life
"You loved unconditionally, your dorky sense of humour was
infectious, you were everything we could have asked for and
more. We will miss you more than you could possibly know. You
will never be forgotten. I love you Caitlin Dickson, always."
The Johnstons, who had 10 children, were heavily involved in
the college and would attend most school events or functions.
"Even if their children weren't in them, they would still go
along to support the others," Mr Crosbie said.
All 10 of their children attended Bethlehem College, where
two are still students.
"This will touch many people in the community. They were
people who served others first as part of their Christian
faith," Mr Crosbie said.
Yesterday was the anniversary of Dr Johnston, an
anaesthetist, starting with the Bay of Plenty District Health
Board. He had been a staff member for 26 years at Tauranga
and Whakatane Hospitals.
Health board chief executive Phil Cammish said Dr Johnston
was described by colleagues as "the nicest person you would
ever meet" and someone who "would only ever give, never
"Brian and Grace have also been described as 'woven into the
fabric of the Bay of Plenty' and will be sorely missed", Mr
Friend Jim Cairns-Nelson, an anaesthetic technician, worked
alongside Dr Johnston for almost 15 years.
"I was quite close to him, so I was really shocked, to be
"His two sons both play premier senior league with my son ...
and my son is pretty shocked because they're good mates."
Mr Cairns-Nelson is involved with the Otumoetai Eels Rugby
League Club, where Dr Johnston's sons Mike, Phil and Chris
Phil, in his late teens, was at the club's first training
session on Tuesday night.
Mr Cairns-Nelson said Dr and Mrs Johnston were very
supportive of their boys, showing up regularly to watch their
"Brian was a real league man. He's a quiet man, but we used
to talk Warriors all the time at the hospital.
"They're just quiet, humble people.
"They're just the best kind of people and parents you'd want
your kids to be around."
Mr Crosbie said he was working to get the school group home
as soon as possible and planned to meet with families last
Both families have asked for privacy.
Details of the crash emerged yesterday afternoon.
Some of the group travelled behind the mini-van in a car and
were also injured.
Two teachers were understood to have broken bones while team
leader Mr Russell suffered concussion. The van driver, who
was considered a member of the mission, also died.
One teacher, Gemma Tong, was from Rotorua's Chapman College,
which is modelled on Bethlehem.
It was yet to be confirmed whether those who did not survive
died at the crash scene or later in hospital.
The tragedy was reported in Kenyan newspaper The Star.
Murang'a South traffic boss Loise Gatimu told the newspaper
the road where the crash happened was notorious for bad
Most accidents in the region had been caused by careless
"We are losing too many innocent lives on this road that has
turned into a nightmare to residents due to careless driving.
The rising carnage can only be checked if drivers observe
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said the
ministry was aware of a motor vehicle accident in Kenya
involving students from Bethlehem College in Tauranga.
"The New Zealand High Commission in Pretoria is providing
consular assistance and support. We are unable to release
further details at this time."
Prime Minister John Key said the Government was giving its
support to the victims.
"The nearest representation that New Zealand has is in South
Africa, so our people from our embassy in South Africa are
travelling over to Kenya to provide support to the others who
are part of the group, and obviously we're working closely
with the families of the loved ones.
"The Government expresses its deepest sympathy to the
families who have lost loved ones and everyone caught up in
what must be a very terrifying moment for those young
people," he said.
- Bay of Plenty Times/additional reporting NZ Herald