No sign of missing climbers

Search now focuses on close beaches

LEIGHTON KEITH
Last updated 07:25 10/08/2012
airforce stand
ANDY JACKSON
An air force Irqquois joined the search yesterday for three missing people.

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Police resumed a search at first light today for three people swept away by raging seas off New Plymouth but have conceded it's now a recovery operation.

Yesterday afternoon, incident controller Inspector Frank Grant said that as it had been more than 24 hours since the trio entered the water, it is unlikely they would be found alive.

"The reality is that it is turning into a recovery operation now and we are focusing on recovery," he said.

"Our thoughts are with the families of the missing as they come to terms with what has occurred. Support is also being provided to staff and students of Spotswood College and Topec."

Police yesterday named the missing three, who were rock climbing on Paritutu when disaster struck, as Spotswood College students Stephen Lewis Kahukaka-Gedye, 17, of New Plymouth, and Joao Felipe Martins De Melo, known as Felipe Melo, 17, of Brazil, and Topec instructor Bryce John Jourdain, 42, of New Plymouth.

Mr Grant said the families of the missing three were aware of the situation.

"I would expect that with the constant liaison that we have had, . . . they are aware that it has turned into a recovery operation."

Yesterday surf-lifesaving inflatable rescue boats, helicopters including the Taranaki Community Rescue Helicopter and an air force Iroquois, 20 police personnel and Taranaki Land SAR volunteers resumed the search at day break.

"The search area that we are focusing on at present is between Omata and Tapuae, this is a distance of four kilometres," Mr Grant said yesterday.

'The police national dive squad has been in New Plymouth today and have made an assessment of the sea conditions; however they are unable to enter the water at this stage, given the rough conditions.'

He said the search, which was called off at 4.30pm yesterday, would resume at 7am today.

"I'm not sure of the exact units that we are going to be using but we will have aircraft, boats and staff available."

Eventually the search would have to be scaled back, he said.

"At some point we will have to; it just depends on what unfolds over the next day. We will be putting a lot of effort into tomorrow's recovery operation but I will be assessing it on a daily basis."

Mr Grant said police had been interviewing the other students and Topec instructor involved in the incident. "That's been taking place since this morning, I'm not sure exactly who has been spoken to yet but if they haven't been spoken to they certainly will be."

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A police investigation into the accident was running alongside the Labour Department investigation, he said.

"It's too early to speculate what has occurred, but our primary focus is still on putting our efforts into finding the missing three."

Mr Grant wouldn't say if the students had been attached by ropes to the rock, nor if Topec staff could be charged over the accident.

"I don't really want to speculate in respect of that, I will just wait until the investigations are completed."

Mr Grant said police and victim support were providing support to the families of the missing three as well as students and staff at Spotswood College and Topec staff.

"The family of Stephen would like to express their thanks to all those involved in the search and to staff and students at Spotswood College."

New Plymouth Mayor Harry Duynhoven said it was a tragic situation.

"I know that everyone in New Plymouth will be reaching out to all those people involved - the families of those people missing, the families of those who are involved and of course the staff and students of Spotswood College and Topec," Mr Duynhoven said.

He had contacted the college as soon as he heard of the accident and offered the council's support but had not spoken to the families of the missing three.

"Our prime consideration at this time is to ensure that services and support is wrapped around those who need it."

- Taranaki Daily News

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