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A Waikato family of five killed in a crash were well-known in their small community, which has been left traumatised by their deaths, police say.
The car was found wrapped around a tree by contractors working at a forest area on State Highway 32 near Whakamaru yesterday afternoon.
Police did not yet know when the crash happened, but said the family were last seen at their home in Whakamaru by family and friends at 8pm on Sunday night.
The car's front seat occupants were driver Lisa Crowley, 23, and her partner, Richard Melling, 37.
In the back were Mr Melling's son with a previous partner, 11-year-old Jordan Melling, and Ms Crowley's children Brody Crowley, 2, and a 3-week-old boy who police believe was yet to be named.
Taupo police area commander Inspector Steve Bullock this morning said the family had been living in Whakamaru for a number of years.
"They are well known in that small community. They have extended family in Taupo, Tokoroa and Mangakino, all townships nearby," he told Radio New Zealand.
"It's always a tragedy when a whole family passes like this, and especially close to Christmas, which is a time when we all reflect on our own lives and our own family. It is very traumatising for all involved."
Mr Bullock said the focus of police inquiries was to establish exactly when the crash occurred.
"We do know that they were last seen at their own home at around 8pm on the Sunday night, so we're asking anyone with any information as to their whereabouts between then and Tuesday afternoon to contact the police immediately."
Mr Bullock said from the direction of the crash, it appeared the family were returning home from the Tokoroa area.
The car appeared to have left the road and travelled several metres before it hit the tree. The wreckage could not be seen from the road.
Mr Bullock said the road was relatively straight with a moderate bend where the vehicle had left the road.
He said it was a busy road.
"However the nature of the crash was such that the vehicle had left the road without any visible signs, so users of the road could drive east and west without noticing the vehicle, and in fact that is what has happened.
"It was only that the forestry workers had actually left the road and were in the firebreak area when they observed the vehicle."
Mr Bullock said the crash was a reminder just how quickly lives can change.
"They can change in an instant, and we just need to be reminded that on our roads, we need to be paying attention at all times, and we need to drive to the conditions and drive to our ability at all times."
South Waikato Mayor Neil Sinclair said such a loss of life was a total tragedy so close to Christmas.
"... to lose what sounds like a family and two other people just before Christmas is shattering. I cannot imagine what it would be like for their families."
Mr Sinclair said people needed to take great care on rural roads, making sure not to rush, to make sure they made it to their destinations safely.
The crash scene was about 30km from where two people were killed in another smash on SH1 yesterday.
In that crash, at 1.05pm, a car travelling south towards Taupo hit an oncoming truck head-on.
The occupants of the car, two Indian men who were visiting New Zealand, died at the scene.
The male truck driver, and a female passenger, both from Kaitaia, were treated for minor injuries at Tokoroa Hospital.