Searchers' mission to 'get these people home'

Constable Daniel White
Constable Daniel White

A large land based search effort continued this morning to find the bodies of three climbers.

Inspector Frank Grant said 50 staff were searching the shore from Port Taranaki to Ahu Ahu Rd today - an area of at least 20 kilometres.

The search party includes Land Search and Rescue, army personnel, Red Cross staff, and police, he said.

An Air Force iroquois helicopter did a final fly over this morning before heading back to the RNZAF Ohakea Base, he said.

Another helicopter was on stand by if needed, Mr Grant said.

An alpine climbing team were searching the rocks around the base of Paritutu and kayakers were searching Port Taranaki's main breakwater to see if the bodies had become wedged in the akmons, he said.

Mr Grant said aerial searches indicated it was unlikely the bodies were floating out at sea.

''We still suspect it's close to shore,'' Mr Grant said.

But water visibility around Paritutu was limited, he said.

''The difficulty that we've really had is that there's so much white water around the rock itself,'' Mr Grant said.

Several items of clothing had been found by search and rescue over the past few days but it is not yet known if they belong to the missing, he said.

''We haven't had the opportunities to show it to the families.''

Searcher Daniel White says his priority now is to bring home someone else's loved ones.

Wednesday was a normal day at work for Constable White when he clocked in at 7am.

The tragedy that began to unfold at Paritutu rock at 1.30pm, where he was the acting sergeant on the scene, is part of the job but difficult all the same.

Speaking to the Taranaki Daily News yesterday Mr White was visibly shattered. His eyes were bloodshot, the result of straining to search the Taranaki seas from an air force Iroquois.

"It was close to 11pm before I got home on Wednesday and yesterday was a 12-hour shift and today will be the same," he said.

"I've got two young kids who I didn't see at all on Wednesday and only saw briefly last night."

Mr White is one of 60 personnel contributing to the search for three people missing at sea in Wednesday's rock climbing tragedy on Paritutu rock.

The toll on the searchers trawling the Taranaki coastline is written on their faces.

Fatigue has set in but the goal remains the same. Bring the bodies of the missing men home to their families.

"I haven't had time to deal with it because on Wednesday I was just going about my normal duties," Mr White said.

"It was all hands to the pump and then search and rescue swung into action but initially there was no doubt that we thought we could get them out of the water."

Overnight on Wednesday he remained optimistic but by Thursday the reality of the situation had kicked in.

He said searching for the men from the air involves intense concentration but on days like yesterday when the water is flat it is easier.

"It was horrible conditions to be working in on Wednesday. There were slippery rock surfaces and the cold to deal with while trying to co-ordinate communications as best I could."

Former Spotswood College student Carl Jones, a sergeant in the 5th battalion of the New Zealand Reserve Army, is also on the job.

Mr Jones set the wheels in motion on Thursday to get a team together to help search shorelines.

"We've got eight guys and three vehicles here. When I heard what had happened and being a former Spotswood student, we banded together and headed to Paritutu," he said.

The men will continue to help search as long as they are needed.

"At the end of the day the mission is to get these people home to their families," he said.

Surf Life Saving club development officer Andy Cronin is leading a rotation of five IRB crews searching for the missing.

Mr Cronin said the experienced lifeguards were out on the water for up to seven hours searching.

"It's a fairly big time commitment from these guys and the wider picture is the support from employers allowing these guys time off to be here," he said.

Taranaki Daily News