Search for three missing to resume at first light

Bryce John Jourdain
Bryce John Jourdain
Stephen Lewis Kahukaka-Gedye
Stephen Lewis Kahukaka-Gedye
Felipe Melo
Felipe Melo

The search for three people who are missing after being swept into rough seas off New Plymouth will resume tomorrow, police say.

Acting area commander Inspector Frank Grant said 11 Year 13 students from Spotswood College were with two Taranaki Outdoor Pursuit and Education Centre instructors  on a rock climbing exercise at Paritutu Rock when three students fell into the water.

"One of the instructors entered the water to assist the students. One of the students managed to cling onto a rock and was winched to safety by the Taranaki Community Rescue Helicopter, but the remaining two students and the instructor have not resurfaced," he said.

The Taranaki community rescue helicopter winches people from Paritutu Rock.
The Taranaki community rescue helicopter winches people from Paritutu Rock.

Grant said the two students were both 17-year-old boys. One was from New Plymouth and the other was  Brazilian.

The instructor was a man, aged in his early 40s, and was also from New Plymouth.

"An extensive and thorough sea, aerial and land search has been conducted over the past several hours. High tide occurred at 8pm this evening and searchers have been stood down for the night. We will resume again at first light."

Grant said police remain optimistic but given the rough sea conditions, the weather and the length of time the trio have been in the water, hopes of finding them alive were fading.

Police expected to release the names of the three missing tomorrow.

Earlier today, a Taranaki Community Rescue Helicopter pilot said a helicopter began a search for the three in the water, but when nothing was found their efforts were focused on getting the remaining the people stuck on the rock to safety.

The 10 were winched away before being taken to Taranaki Base Hospital for treatment.

While the water is cold, only 14 degrees, it was the rocks and large swell that were the problem, the pilot said.

"It's like a washing machine of white-water and rocks."

St John operations manager Ian May said the 17-year-old boy who had fallen into the water but managed to climb on to the rocks was treated for moderate hypothermia by paramedic.

All members of the group have now been discharged from hospital, police said.

The shoreline had been searched from just north of Oakura in the south to the New Plymouth city limits to the north.

An inflatable rescue boat, port pilot boat and commercial fishing boat have been in the water searching for those who are still missing.

Spotswood College principal Mark Bowden said he had spent the afternoon at the hospital with the students and brought in a counsellor for support.

Police also were providing support to the families of the missing.

The Police National Dive Squad was expected to arrive in New Plymouth tomorrow and an approach had been made to Royal New Zealand Air Force to assist with the air search tomorrow, police said.

Taranaki Daily News