Five people including a four-year-old Italian boy died in what has been described as “one of the worst accidents” ever to happen on a busy north-east road.
Emergency services were called to the crash, involving a minibus and a 4×4, just before midnight on Thursday.
Passers-by desperately tried to give first aid at the roadside while police, fire, ambulance and the coastguard helicopter raced to the A96 Aberdeen to Inverness road at the Drummuir turn-off, between Keith and Huntly.
Three people inside the orange Nissan X-Trail died, while the 39-year-old female driver was taken to Dr Gray’s Hospital with serious injuries.
It is understood the group were heading home from a line dancing event in Elgin.
Last night the male passenger was named locally as 63-year-old Ted Reid, from Macduff. His friends in the car, two women, aged 69 and 70, have not yet been named.
Police confirmed a woman and a four-year-old boy, who were part of a group of Italian tourists travelling in the minibus, also died. Another passenger remains in a critical condition, while two men and a three-year-old boy were also injured.
Officers were still working to determine where the tourists were travelling to and from yesterday.
Superintendent Louise Blakelock, from the roads policing department, said: “The dreadful scene faced by the emergency responders from police, fire and ambulance and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency was both distressing and extremely challenging for everyone involved.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who made valiant attempts to save the casualties lives – their efforts cannot be underestimated. I would also like to thank members of the public who came upon this terrible incident, who phoned the emergency services and provided first aid and comfort.
“Every loss of life on our roads is a tragedy however when so many are killed in one incident the impact on their families, their friends and our entire community is massive. Our thoughts are with everyone who has been involved or affected.
“An investigation is ongoing into the exact circumstances so it would wrong for me to speculate further at this time.
“I would however ask anyone who was in the area last night and saw either vehicle involved in the lead-up to this incident to please contact the police on 101. Likewise, if you have dashcam footage that may assist please get in touch with us.”
The tragic incident left communities around the Aberdeenshire and Moray areas reeling.
Mr Reid, who served in the army’s tank corps, had been well-known in the Banff area as a bus driver.
Aberchirder businessman Willy Bremner was a classmate of Mr Reid’s at Foggie Primary and Banff Academy.
Paying tribute last night, he said: “Ted was a great sort of character when he was driving his bus he always waved to everybody he knew. A really nice guy.
“I believe they were away line dancing in Elgin.
“Ted was 63. I remember his birthday, February 10, 1955, because my brother’s was the day after. It was a date I never forgot.”
Moray MP Douglas Ross said: “This is one of the worst road traffic accidents we’ve seen in Moray for many years and yet again our emergency services have responded in the most professional manner under what must have been extremely challenging circumstances.
“The A96 is a difficult road at the best of times but this is an extremely shocking accident.”
Richard Lochhead, the region’s MSP, added: “My thanks go to emergency services for everything they did at the scene of what is a major incident and of course our hospital staff who are caring for those who were injured and my thoughts just now are with those directly affected and all their loved ones.”
Turriff and district councillor Iain Taylor said: “It is a horrific accident. We have five dead and others in a life-threatening situation. It is traumatic all round.”
Troup councillor Mark Findlater added: “My heart goes out to all those involved in this incident, and my thoughts are with the families.”
Seven ambulances and a special operations team were on the scene with paramedics working under “difficult circumstances” to help those involved, after members of the public had given first aid.
The road was closed for overnight and into the early afternoon with collision investigators on the scene for several hours.
It caused major disruption to morning commuters and a convoy to the Doronell wind farm, near Dufftown, which was travelling from Inverness was delayed by several hours.