Felipe's uncle asks searchers to keep going

Please keep searching

LYN HUMPHREYS
Last updated 05:00 13/08/2012
Felipe Melo,
ROBERT CHARLES/Fairfax NZ

ABSENT FRIEND: Mate of missing student Felipe Melo, Raniera Tamati, 18, draped in a Brazilian flag, at Back Beach yesterday.

Message from Felipe's family

Jose Martins
FAMILY ADVOCATE: Jose Martins, uncle of missing Brazilian student Felipe Melo, has arrived in New Plymouth from Brazil to report back to his devastated parents in their home town of Fortaleza.

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Please keep searching.

This is the plea that Jose Martins has travelled halfway around the world to deliver to those in charge of the search and rescue effort off New Plymouth's coast.

Caught by big seas pounding Paritutu rock last Wednesday during a traverse that turned to tragedy, Felipe Martins De Melo, 17, Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye, 17, and their instructor Bryce Jourdain, 42, are now believed to have drowned.

Felipe's uncle Jose Martins came to New Plymouth from Fortaleza, in northern Brazil, and yesterday visited the search volunteers' base at Ngamotu Beach.

He said Felipe's parents were too distraught to travel.

Another uncle, Claudio Melo, will join him in New Plymouth today.

"His parents still hope that he is alive," Mr Martins said through translator Claudia Powell.

While they were aware media reports were that he and the other two with him had probably drowned, "they are still waiting for a miracle".

"They believe that for God nothing is impossible. That is what they are hanging on to."

The family did not want to blame anyone for what had happened but wanted all efforts concentrated on the search.

"All the efforts now should be to bring them home," he said.

And having seen the extensive search efforts first hand, Mr Martins wanted to thank everyone involved.

"He is very impressed hearing all the reports.

"Everyone here has been so amazing," Ms Powell said.

"Losing a son is very hard and very sad.

"Nobody deserves to go through this," she said.

"The family hopes they are going to bring Felipe back home."

Felipe, an international student at Spotswood College, was not supposed to still be in New Zealand. He had loved his time at the school so much that he rang his mother and father from Auckland on July 9 - the day before he was to fly out - to ask if he could stay on until December.

"They believe that because everything was going all right it was meant to be. He was so happy here."

Felipe is the youngest of three children. He has an older brother and sister.

His father is an economist and his mother a psychologist.

Yesterday, Taranaki police search and rescue co-ordinator Sergeant Andrew Ross, who has been running Operation Rock from day one, said fewer people would be involved in the official search from today because many had work commitments.

But the search would continue to check high-likelihood areas.

"If there had been something on the surface or near the surface we would have have seen it.

"But if something is deep in the water even if we put 15 helicopters out there they are not going to see it," he said.

"Those searching from seagoing vessels reported that beyond the surf breaks the water was very clear.

"One helicopter crew member reported such good visibility they were able to see a chocolate bar wrapper in the water."

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Organisers of a Facebook-based independent search effort say they are overwhelmed with the people and businesses who are registering with them. The Bring the Boys Home search base has signed up 150-plus people in just two days.

"We're making everyone sign in," said Melissa, who did not want her surname made public. "Five boats were out this morning and a lot of jet skiers on Saturday."

She had wanted to help out because they were friends of the Gedye family. "It's important they bring them home."

Many people and businesses had donated food.

"It's awesome. People can go out and search on a full stomach," she said.

While the Taranaki Daily News team was at the beach, Toni Johns, with 18-month-old Tyler on her hip, brought in her second donation of homemade soup. More was cooking on the stove at home.

"I can't go and search because of Tyler, but at least I can bring soup down. I'll look on Facebook so I know where they are tomorrow and bring more down."

Clay Drummond, who set up the Facebook page, said he hadn't slept since the day it happened.

"We know they are there, we've just got to find them. I'll keep going until we get them home."

BACKPACK FOUND

Searchers found a day-pack yesterday with missing instructor Bryce Jourdain's name on it.

Taranaki search and rescue co-ordinator Sergeant Andrew Ross said it was found on rocks in front of the New Plymouth power station.

"It had a throw rope in it that he may have had on him," Mr Ross said.

The find confirmed the searchers were looking in the right areas, he said.

Flowers thrown into the sea at Back Beach last week had turned up at Ngamotu Beach.

Several items of clothing had been found by search and rescue, but it was not yet known if they belonged to the missing.

EXPERTS ON CURRENTS PLOT SEARCH ZONE

Oceanographers are assisting in the search for two students and their instructor lost off the Taranaki coast.

The three disappeared into heavy surf during a traverse of Paritutu rock last Wednesday.

Spotswood College students Felipe Melo, 17, and Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye, 17, and Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits Education Centre instructor Bryce John Jourdain, 42, are still missing and are now presumed drowned.

The police officer in charge of the body recovery operation, Taranaki search and rescue co-ordinator Sergeant Andrew Ross said they were pleased to have the support of New Plymouth-based experts Met Ocean Solutions to help work out where the search effort should be concentrated.

From Raglan yesterday, Brett Beamsley said the company's managing director, New Plymouth-based Peter McCoombe, offered their services as a result of being heavily involved in the surfing scene.

It was the first time the company had become involved in an offshore search for missing bodies.

Their computer models allow them to provide high resolution data and, in the case of the New Plymouth search, predict where submerged bodies could be expected to be swept. The operating system uses atmospheric weather and hydrodynamic models to work out the tidal and current movements.

These were strongly affected by wind strength.

The early models showed that initially the bodies were predicted to have moved down the coast to the southwest. But on Friday the winds changed 180 degrees and currents were forecast to be moving up the coast to the northeast.

"At the moment everything is showing the currents moving in that direction." It was assumed the bodies would have initially been taken out to a depth of 25 to 30 metres, he said.

The computer modelling then simulated where they might go from there.

There was also the potential that bodies could have been trapped in a cave at the base of the rock and released later. "Regardless of that, the best guess is still to the northeast."

"I hope it ends well. As well as can be expected and there is some closure," Mr Beamsley said.

Mr Ross yesterday praised the "huge effort" from volunteers and search and rescue teams.

"There's been a big collaboration right across the community.

"It's pretty heartening. It reaffirms my faith in the community."

- Taranaki Daily News

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