A survivor of the Paritutu rock climbing tragedy last night revealed how the group were overcome with "pure panic".
Spotswood College student Campbell Shaw was one of 10 people trapped on a cliff face as two-metre waves crashed around them on Wednesday.
The group watched in horror as three members of their rock climbing group were swept away by heavy seas.
Stephen Lewis Kahukaka-Gedye, Joao Felipe Martins De Melo, both 17, and Bryce John Jourdain, 42 haven't been seen since.
"It was just hard to witness," Campbell said.
"There are no words that can describe it. Pure panic."
The Spotswood College year 13 students, on a Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits and Education Centre course, weren't scheduled to be rock climbing that day.
"We were supposed to be doing something else," Campbell told TV One's Close Up last night.
Campbell said the group were excited about tackling Paritutu as the sun shone down.
But the situation quickly changed, he said.
"As soon as we got there the clouds came over and it started raining."
At a certain stage of the climb the waves got too big, he said.
Spotswood College head boy Casey Davies-Hall said as soon as Topec instructor Mr Jourdain heard two students had fallen into the water he didn't hesitate to dive in after them.
"He didn't fall," Casey said.
"He took away his clip, he did everything he could and dived in after them."
The group was not wearing safety harnesses, Campbell said.
Casey said the students didn't blame the instructors for what went wrong.
"It's just a freak accident and we don't hold any blame," Casey said.
The 10 climbers trapped on the cliff were airlifted to Taranaki Base Hospital and discharged shortly after.
The three missing are presumed dead.
- Taranaki Daily News
Did the Key v Cunliffe debate change your vote?Related story: Support slips for National and John Key