River searchers find body

03:51, Dec 19 2013
Whakatane river search
Searchers on Whakatane River.

Police searching for a 13-year-old boy last seen falling into the Whakatane River yesterday have found a body.

Lance Tikitere Fitzgerald, a popular Whakatane Intermediate student, had been with friends yesterday evening leaping off a bridge into the river, a popular summer past time in the Bay of Plenty town.

The bridge was yesterday lined with leapers taking advantage of a fine day.

Lance Tikitere Fitzgerald
RIVER TRAGEDY: Lance Tikitere Fitzgerald.

He fell backwards into the river from a concrete step, about a metre above the water about 6pm, police said.

Some reports say he did not resurface, others said he briefly popped up looking distressed, then disappeared.

The boy's body would be taken to shore by the Coastguard boat where family would spend time with him, police said.


Lance Tikitere Fitzgerald divers
Divers searching the Whakatane River for missing teenager Lance Tikitere Fitzgerald.

Friends had taken to his Facebook page to post messages of grief.

Whakatane Intermediate principal Doug McLean described Lance as an "incredibly polite boy" with a bright personality.

"He was one of those kids that, when class finished, he stayed back and engaged the teachers and got to know them," he said.

"The teachers were telling me if they were carrying something, he'd come up and say, 'oh, miss, can I carry that for you?' He was very polite that way, he would help people.

"All the teachers knew him, and when you have 550 kids you don't get to know everyone. He certainly stood out."

The year 8 student was originally from Gisborne but was being raised in Whakatane by his uncle, McLean said.

The school was planning to take a group of students to his tangi, expected to be in the East Coast.

"It's really knocked the school community hard, it was a heck of a shock."