Three students from Boston University were killed Saturday and at least five others injured when their minivan flipped in a New Zealand vacation town, according to the Associated Press.

A backpack lies on a road after a minivan crashed, near Turangi, New Zealand, Saturday, killing three and injuring five Boston University students. (AP Photo/New Zealand Herald, John Cowpland)

Most of the students were enrolled in a study-abroad program based in Auckland.

Study abroad is an increasingly popular choice on the higher-education menu these days - - even among community college students. Goucher College, the University of Richmond and many other local institutions pride themselves on near-universal participation in study abroad. Eighteen large universities each have more than 5,000 students studying abroad, according to the Institute of International Education. Nearly 300,000 U.S. students study abroad annually.

Attacks and injuries are uncommon for students who study abroad. Deaths are said to be rare, although I see no data on their frequency at the international education Web site.

But they do occur, and each new tragedy raises fresh questions about the fundamental safety of leaving campus for a foreign nation.

In January, a Dartmouth student died of an apparent drug overdose in a Barcelona apartment. According to a U.K.newspaper report, the apartment landlord was arrested and charged in the death.

Earlier in the academic year, a University of Iowa student fell to his death in the Himalayas. In 1998, several students from St. Mary’s College of Maryland were sexually assaulted during a study-abroad stay in Guatemala in 1998.

Perhaps the most notorious study-abroad death of recent times is that of Meredith Kercher, a British university student slain in her bedroom in Perugia, Italy in 2007. American exchange student Amanda Knox was convicted in the death in an Italian court, but that conviction was later overturned. The case remains something of a mystery.