Body found at Whangārei caves during search for missing student

By RNZ.co.nz

Searchers have recovered a body at Abbey Caves in Northland where a student was missing after a school trip during bad weather on Tuesday.

Northland District Commander Superintendent Tony Hill announced the discovery of the body shortly before 6.30am today.

He said the body was found late on Tuesday night after police continued the search using specialist equipment brought up from Auckland.

The Year 11 student from Whangārei Boys’ High School went missing during a trip in to the caves with a school party.

The search for the missing student had been expected to conclude around 5pm yesterday, however, the equipment meant it could continue into the evening, Hill said.

“This helped enable searchers to locate a body, which was successfully recovered late yesterday evening. As such, the search has now concluded,” Hill said.

“While formal ID of the body is yet to take place, police are ensuring the family is being offered support, and our thoughts remain with them at this tragic time.”

Some cordons will remain in place around the caves area while police continued to conduct a routine scene examination, he said.

“We acknowledge this event has been very distressing for the school and wider community, and that there are a number of questions the public will have.

“At the moment, police’s focus is on supporting those affected, and we remind people to please not make assumptions as to what has occurred.”

A security guard at the entrance to Abbey Caves, Northland, where a body was recovered during a search for a Year 11 student from Whangārei Boys' High School missing on a trip into the caves with a school party.

A security guard was at the site on Wednesday morning. Photo: RNZ / Tom Taylor

Fourteen other students and two adults reported being in trouble around 10.30am on Tuesday but made it out of the caves to safety, where they helped by search and rescue teams and St John Ambulance.

‘Cloak of aroha around the whānau’

Ngāti Kahu o Torongare me Ngā Hapū o Whangārei has placed a rāhui at the caves.

Hapū kaikōrero Hūhana Lyndon was at the site on Tuesday evening for prayer and to offer support to the family.

“We received the call that our tamaiti had been found, and so made our way over with our kaumātua to meet the whānau and to support them as well as all of those kaimahi who worked tirelessly through the day to find him.

“All the emergency support services were united in aroha and grief for our whānau as they came through at the same time as us, once word was received that they had found him.

“It was terribly sad and a horrific situation but being there and united in that aroha manaaki for our whānau at that time certainly gave us strength for today and for the days to come.

“It’s a special tribute to the way with which New Zealand police, search and rescue, all of those support services were there and wrapped a cloak of aroha around the whānau.”

Hapū members had also earlier in the day been with the family as they suffered the grief of not knowing what would happen, she said.

“The wairua does settle once you know that you have your boy back.”

Aroha was extended to all the boys who were found and their families and their distress, as well as the staff who were also deeply affected.

“It’s really important to us to manaaki all, to all those affected.

“Our kaumātua are with the school this morning, they assembled early with school leadership as part of what is our approach for managing the emotions and supporting the school culturally and spiritually.”

Kaumātua would help lead in protecting and strengthening the spiritual integrity of the school community, and the Ministry of Education and Victim Support would be sending help, Lyndon said.

The family followed their boy to the hospital after he was recovered from the caves, she said. They needed time and space for themselves and for the wider whānau to be advised.

In a statement yesterday, Whangārei Boys High School principal Karen Gilbert-Smith promised a full investigation into the trip would be held.

The Ministry of Education North leader Isabel Evans said the ministry’s traumatic incident team was at the school to give support, and any investigation would be carried out by the appropriate agency or agencies.

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