Body of missing man found seated against tree

Last updated 05:00 08/04/2014
Trevor Smith
RESTING PLACE: A police boat waits to collect Trevor Smith’s body from the Waikato River bank on Sunday.

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Missing Kawhia man Trevor Smith was found sitting against a tree on the banks of the Waikato River, say those who found him.

For his family it brought to a close a painstaking three-week search.

For those who found him, it was a moment they'll find difficult to forget.

On Sunday, four teenagers were clambering up a bank of the Waikato River to jump back in the water when they saw the 70-year-old on the edge of a steep bank, opposite Riverlea, a short walk from Peacockes Rd where Smith was last seen.

Declan Ellis and his friends were jetskiing and wake boarding nearby.

They met the four teenage swimmers after they'd leapt off and swum across to Malcolm St on the outskirts of Hamilton.

Ellis said they knew something was wrong.

"One of the boys came up and he just looked at us and, in all honesty, we thought he was going to hit us," he said.

"The look on his face was of absolute terror, but he said to us, ‘we have to get something out of the car'."

A phone. They called police before Ellis and his friends heard what happened.

They'd been swimming at a popular cliff upstream on the Hillcrest side, Ellis said.

They'd had enough, jumped in then swum across to another high, steep point on the opposite side.

It was about 2pm when they saw the body.

They asked if he was OK and got no response, Ellis said. They walked closer and realised.

Smith went missing from the entrance of Waikato Hospital on March 16 while visiting family members.

He was not in a fit state - dementia confused his mind and type-2 diabetes weakened his body.

A search began immediately.

Police and land search and rescue teams scoured city streets and gullies, and enlisted helicopters and boats to check Hamilton's Lake Rotoroa and the river.

Whanau and friends travelled to Hamilton from Kawhia, Tokoroa, Rotorua and Auckland. Teams of up to 50 people, aided by members of the public, searched for Smith's lime-green Vodafone Warriors jersey.

He was last seen part way along a 4km hour-long path from the hospital to the riverbank below Echobank Place.

There wasn't a sign of Smith for 22 days.

The boys who found him, all aged in their late teens, were in shock, Ellis said.

It kept Ellis awake too.

The thought of Trevor Smith, "the poor guy", and how he wandered there, confused, propped himself up against a tree, watched the river flow past and stopped breathing.

For his family the find brought a sense of relief.

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"We're very relieved that we've got him back, very relieved," said Trevor Smith's youngest brother, Steve Smith.

"That was our ultimate goal, always was our ultimate goal and now we've got him."

Not content to wait, Smith's wife Mary joined the search for her husband and she was relieved it was over.

"She was a tower of strength for everyone really and had that determination she was never going to give up."

Trevor grew up at Te Mawhai, south of Te Awamutu, and at Hangatiki near Te Kuiti and Steve Smith said he was a generous man who made sure people were cared for.

He regularly drove people from Kawhia for their appointments at Waikato Hospital and was always willing to take anglers out on his boat for a fish.

People from as far away as Tokoroa, Kawhia, Rotorua and Kaitaia joined the search and Steve Smith said the tangi was likely to be huge.

"We are so grateful to the wider community in Hamilton, even strangers, and whanau who have come in over the past three weeks.

"We really, really appreciate what has happened and I'd like to say a big thank you to them all." matt.bowen@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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