Search for man and child missing after car submerged on the West Coast video

Police at Poerua River, near Harihari, where a 66-year-old man and a 2-year-old girl disappeared after their ...
STUART NIMMO

Police at Poerua River, near Harihari, where a 66-year-old man and a 2-year-old girl disappeared after their four-wheel-drive became submerged in the river.

Video shows a submerged four-wheel-drive in the West Coast river where a man and toddler are missing.

The 66-year-old man, believed to Barry Petrie of Greymouth, and a 2-year-old girl went missing after their four-wheel-drive vehicle became partially submerged in the Poerua River just after 12pm on Thursday. Poor weather and fading light forced police to suspend their search just before 5pm.

The driver was trying to cross the river, near One One Rd near Harihari, south of Hokitika, which had become swollen in heavy rain. 

JOANNE CARROLL/Stuff.co.nz

Emergency services search the Poerua River, in Westland, after a man and 2-year-old child disappeared from a four-wheel-drive that became submerged.

The car is seen in One News footage below the surface of the fast-flowing river.

Police, firefighters, search and rescue staff, and locals spent the afternoon searching the 6.5-kilometre area between the vehicle and the river mouth.

Sergeant Sean Judd, officer in charge of West Coast search and rescue, said teams would be back in the area "first thing" on Friday.

Two helicopters, firefighters, police and locals helped look for the missing pair on Thursday afternoon.
JOANNE CARROLL/FAIRFAX NZ

Two helicopters, firefighters, police and locals helped look for the missing pair on Thursday afternoon.

"Hopefully we will be able to have a helicopter down there and a white water rescue team in kayaks, but it all depends on what the conditions are like.

"The weather isn't looking good at the moment so we will have to wait and see."

West Coast area commander Inspector Mel Aitken said bad weather and high river levels meant the search had to be suspended for the night just before 5pm.

The search will resume at first light on Friday.
STUART NIMMO

The search will resume at first light on Friday.

Five people were in the vehicle when it became trapped. Three got out, but Petrie and the 2-year-old girl were still missing. It was understood Petrie and girl were not related.

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"They've got into a bit of trouble crossing back across the river and the vehicle's become stuck," Aitken said.

The river had risen "quite rapidly" over the afternoon, and poor weather conditions had caused challenges for the searchers.

"We can't put our staff and our volunteers into further danger, but we're doing what we can."

Aitken said police had "grave fears" for the safety of the missing pair, but remained committed to finding and rescuing them.

Frank Simpson, the owner of the farm where the incident happened, said the occupants of the vehicle were on their way home from work when the 4WD became submerged in the river.

He said the workers lived on the other side of the river from his farm and made the trip regularly.

"Everyone is really upset about it, it's a sheer accident that's happened.

"The river has come up so quickly."

Anne Simpson said it had been raining all night and the group in the 4WD "got caught out".

She understood the toddler was trapped in the vehicle initially.

Another resident, who asked not to be named, said the vehicle made it across the river several times on Thursday before being caught out.

"That's the sad thing because the person had already done it," she said.

"That was their third trip across today when it unravelled. You just don't really know the depth [of the river]."

The river could rise very quickly without much warning, she said.

"I know the beaten track that they are doing because I've done it for so many years of my life . . . Twenty years ago I was doing the same thing on the same river crossing."

Heavy rain had been lashing the West Coast, with MetService meteorologist Lisa Murray saying nearby Hokitika received 25 millimetres of rain in 12 hours.

A severe weather warning remained in place for the Westland ranges, with heavy rain expected to continue for several more days.

A local who drove over the Poerua River bridge shortly after 11am said rain on Thursday morning had made the river "a bit high and quite muddy".

"It's been low recently because it's been so dry, but any bit of rain and it rises quite quickly."

Harihari butcher Neville Thomson said he heard sirens about 12.15pm.

It had been raining all morning after a dry 10 days, he said.

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