Police divers join Paritutu Rock search

Divers get their first chance to search

LEIGHTON KEITH
Last updated 05:00 18/08/2012
Search extended
ANDY JACKSON

The search for the missing trio has been extended from Paritutu Rock to the white cliffs.

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Police divers are for the first time searching for the three men missing off the New Plymouth coast.

Senior Constable Jeff McGrath said today was the first chance the national dive squad was able to go into the water since the trio went missing on August 8.

"We hadn't been able to get divers in the water before because the sea has been too rough," McGrath said.

"From day one, we've wanted to be able to search, so it's good that the sea and weather conditions are allowing that to happen today."

Spotswood College students Felipe Melo, 17, of Brazil, and Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye, 17, and Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits Education Centre instructor Bryce John Jourdain, 42, are all presumed drowned after falling off Paritutu Rock during a climb.

McGrath said three divers were currently in the water at base of Paritutu Rock.

Two more divers were expected to arrive from Wellington this afternoon.

Meanwhile, the coastal search has been scaled down, with no police search and rescue volunteers combing the shoreline today.

Staff needed a break and "we need to make sure people are not being run into the ground," Taranaki police search and rescue co-ordinator Sergeant Andrew Ross said.

"That doesn't mean we won't upscale again; we certainly will if something is found. It just means it's unlikely there will be police and SAR volunteers out there this weekend."

Ross said the families of the missing men were aware the search would be scaled back.

"They know it has been coming and we just can't keep going the way we are. It is very disappointing that we haven't found anything."

"In an ideal world we would have police staff scouring the coast for the next month but we can't do that."

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment was investigating the accident.

New Plymouth service manager Jo Pugh said four health and safety inspectors, including two senior inspectors were working on the investigation.

"'Topec has not closed and is free to operate as normal but has voluntarily withdrawn itself from any activity on Paritutu Rock."

As the official search was scaled back, a private Facebook-based search effort, Bring the Boys Home, called for volunteers.

A co-ordinator said the group wanted to make up the shortfall.

"We need a big push this weekend. The more sets of eyes the better," she said.

Volunteers could register at a special tent set up at Ngamotu Beach.

"They'll need suitable shoes and we would prefer people to wear high visibility vests."

The group has had up to 100 volunteers searching the coastline each day since the trio went missing.

A police spokeswoman said the families of the men would like to thank the wider Taranaki community who continued to support them during this difficult time.

"The families of Bryce, Stephen and Felipe are still coming to terms with the tragedy."

Ross said people posting messages on social media sites claiming police had found bodies were being extremely insensitive to the families of the missing men.

"That's not really helpful.

"We will be telling the families if and when we find anything."

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He supported the private search but warned volunteers to be aware of the coastal environment, especially the dangerous, slippery rocks.

Ross said if searchers found anything they thought would be of interest to the police, they should report it immediately.

"Don't go near it, don't touch it and don't put it into a bag and bring it into the police station."

Yesterday two four-man SAR teams scoured the coastline between Waitara and Tapuae.

A search of a cave under Paritutu, by surf lifesaving rescue swimmers, yesterday failed to find any trace of the men.

Ross said it had been heartening how the whole community had pulled together during the search and wanted to thank all of the organisations and individuals who had helped.

"They live in Taranaki, they love this place and they don't like to see these people grieving."

A number of rahui (restrictions) have been placed on parts of the coastline.

- Taranaki Daily News

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