SOUTH CANTERBURY, New Zealand — Two young United States church workers and an elderly woman were killed in a high-speed, head-on smash on a usually quiet South Canterbury road last night.

Police believe the white Toyota used by the church workers crossed the centre line while heading to Temuka on the Temuka-Waitohi Road in rural South Canterbury at 5pm yesterday.

Their car smashed into a Nissan heading to Pleasant Point.

The names of the victims have yet to be released.

The Toyota driven by the church workers, believed to be members of The Church of Latter-day Saints and from Nevada, was destroyed by fire after impact and both occupants were burnt beyond recognition.

It is believed the pair were going to a meeting when the crash happened.

The driver of the Toyota was found in the car and the passenger was thrown out.

The car fire also set fire to a roadside gorse hedge and passers-by managed to pull the Nissan clear of the fire.

Sergeant Paul Scoble, of Temuka, said the woman killed in the Nissan was a front-seat passenger. She was in her 70s.

The female driver of the Nissan was in Timaru Hospital last night with severe leg injuries and her husband, a back-seat passenger, was also in hospital with moderate injuries.

Scoble said it appeared high speed was a factor in the crash, with the Toyota crossing into the path of the other car.

Both cars were destroyed in the crash.

Emergency crews closed off the straight road west of Temuka as ambulance, police and funeral directors cleared the scene.

Scoble said one occupant of the Toyota was confirmed as a United States citizen and the other man was also thought to be American.  A Nevada driver’s license was found at the scene. There were no witnesses, but police are interviewing those first on the scene.

A representative of the Church said senior church officials had been notified about the smash.

Mission leader Michael Finegan, of Wellington, could not be contacted for comment.