Hopes are fading for three people missing following a rock climbing exercise at Paritutu Rock, near Back Beach in New Plymouth today.
"An extensive and thorough sea, aerial and land search has been conducted over the past several hours. High tide occurred at 8pm this evening and searchers have been stood down for the night," Incident Controller Inspector Frank Grant said.
The search will resume at first light tomorrow.
Police say while they remain optimistic, the sea and weather conditions are rough and the trio have been missing in the water for a considerable time.
Grant says eleven Year 13 students from Spotswood College were with two instructors from TOPEC on a rockclimbing exercise at Paritutu Rock when three students fell into the water.
"One of the instructors entered the water to assist the students. One of the students managed to cling onto a rock and was winched to safety by the Taranaki Community Rescue Helicopter, but the remaining two students and the instructor have not resurfaced."
The student winched to safety was taken to Taranaki Base
Hospital and treated for hypothermia and later discharged. The
remaining nine members of the group were also taken to hospital but
have all been discharged.
Andy Chrome, who is part of the Taranaki Rescue Crew who lifted the nine students and one instructor to safety told ONE News conditions were rough.
It's a pretty rough place, especially against the rocks where they were. If you're able to swim out beyond the breakers then conditions are a little more suitable for swimming, but it's pretty rough against the rocks, he says.
Grant says the two students are both males, aged 17. One is from the New Plymouth area and the other is of Brazilian descent. The instructor is aged in his early 40s and is also from the New Plymouth area.
Police expect to release the names of the three missing tomorrow. Police are providing support to the families of the missing, during this difficult time.
The Police National Dive Squad is expected to arrive in New Plymouth tomorrow and the Air Force has also been approached to help.
Spotswood College issued a statement saying the school was working closely with police and search and rescue.
"Our thoughts are with all the families involved in this situation."
Shocked and saddened
Outdoors NZ (ONZ) said it will be working closely with authorities to establish what happened and to make sure any lessons are learned and improvements made.
"ONZ is shocked and saddened by the tragedy that occurred on
Paritutu Rock today," Chief Executive Garth Dawson.
"As the representative organisation for the New Zealand outdoor sector, our heartfelt thoughts go to the families, friends and colleagues of the Spotswood College students and TOPEC instructors missing after the traverse of Paritutu Rock today."
"TOPEC is a well-respected, long-established organisation with a
good safety record," said Dawson. "We know they will be devastated
by today's tragedy."