Body found in river in search for missing coach

JONATHAN CARSON
Last updated 14:12 12/12/2013
MARK TAYLOR/Fairfax NZ

Police hold a press conference about the body they pulled from the Waikato River today.

Police refocus search

Parents appeal for help

Paul Arber
Bruce Mercer/Fairfax NZ Zoom
Parents Richelle and Sam "couldn't have wished for anywhere more beautiful" for their son's body to be found, says family friend Mark Sheppard.
Paul Arber
MISSING: Australian tennis coach Paul Arber.

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The body pulled from the Waikato River today is that of missing Australian tennis coach Paul Arber, a friend says.

"The guy's in black shorts, he's been missing four days - there's really not much doubt. It's 100 per cent," close friend Mark Sheppard said.

"It's the worst possibility, but I think we've been building ourselves up to it for the past four days that it could have been a possibility, for sure."

The Australian tennis tour team, along with Arber's parents, Richelle and Sam Arber, held a ceremony on the banks of the river this morning near where the body was found.

Waikato field crime manager Detective Inspector Karl Thornton said the body was that of a male, had only black shorts on and appeared to be European.

He said police had not received any other missing-person reports.

More information on Arber's movements had come in overnight, he said.

Arber was seen on closed-circuit television footage at a Clyde St service station at 1.30am on Sunday wearing only black shorts.

Thornton said police were interviewing a person about clothing found in Cook St that they believe to be the grey tennis tracksuit Arber had been wearing.

A Hamilton Girls' High School rowing crew found the body in the Waikato River near Anne St, and principal Marie Gordon said the girls were being provided with Victim Support and counselling.

She said the girls were distraught but had "coped admirably" with the situation.

Police searching for Arber, 38, said a person called at 7am today with the news a body had been found.

Arber was last seen on Sunday morning walking in and out of the water near Hamilton East, upstream from where the body was found near the Fairfield bridge.

Beth Lynch, of Hamilton, said she was walking her dog down the west side of the river when she heard the schoolgirls in the boat screaming.

Lynch said she then saw a body floating swiftly down the river.

The body was recovered and police are going through the formal process of identifying it.

Senior Sergeant Peter van de Wetering said it had not been officially confirmed whether the body was Arber's.

Arber was in Hamilton coaching eight young tennis players who competed in the Waikato Christmas junior tournament at the Dey St tennis centre.

He was part of a group of about 50 Australian coaches and players.

He is a former Kooyong Tennis Club captain and the 2012 Victorian Jewish tennis champion.

Sheppard said Arber was in a "tranquil and happy" state before he went missing.

"Paul was getting in touch with nature. It was 4am. He's actually gone into that river to have a swim," he said.

"He hasn't been in the mental frame of mind to ascertain the dangers of the river or the treachery of the river, but what actually happened to Paul was an accident. It was 100 per cent an accident.

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"He was in a happy state of mind and in a tranquil state of mind."

The children on the tennis tour were upset but had decided to keep playing in the tournament, Sheppard said.

"Because of Paul, every single one of them wants to partake in the tour," he said.

"They still want to keep going because they've said that Paul has taught them you've got to be a fighter, you've got to be tough, you've got to have determination, and in respect for Paul they want to go ahead with the tour."

Arber's parents were finding the situation hard but were grateful to the people of New Zealand and the police for their help, Sheppard said. 

- © Fairfax NZ News

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