The search for the bodies of three people missing off the coast of New Plymouth will resume at first light tomorrow.
Spotswood College students Stephen Lewis Kahukaka-Gedye and Joao Felipe Martins De Melo, both 17, along with instructor Bryce John Jourdain, 42, fell into the sea at Paritutu Rock, near Back Beach during a school rock-climbing expedition around 1pm yesterday afternoon.
Incident Controller Inspector Frank Grant said that given the time that had passed since the three entered the water, the search is now a body recovery mission.
Extensive shoreline, aerial and marine searches have been carried out and Grant said a Royal New Zealand Air Force Iroquois did a shoreline sweep following high tide earlier this afternoon.
"The Police National Dive Squad has been in New Plymouth today and have made an assessment of the sea conditions, however, they are unable to enter the water at this stage, given the rough conditions," Grant said.
ONE News reporter Hadyn Jones says that students from all local schools are invited to bring a candle for a vigil at Paritutu Rock from 8pm tonight.
Missing student loved the outdoors
Kahukaka-Gedye and Jourdain are both New Plymouth locals, while Melo is an international student from Brazil who was studying at Spotswood College.
Spotswood College Principal Mark Bowden told ONE News that Kahukaka-Gedye loved the outdoors.
"A very enthusiastic man, loved physical education, was into everything with gusto and enthusiasm, hence why he wanted to be in this activity."
Friends of Kahukaka-Gedye described him as being very popular.
"I would always see him around school, he would perhaps have a skateboard or a scooter. He was a really cheerful person I'll give you that," said Spotswood College student Regan Jeffrey.
Bowden said Melo fell in love with New Zealand during his exchange here.
"Filipo came to us in January, he was due to stay for one semester, or two terms, but he was having such a wonderful time he convinced his parents to stay for another term," Bowden said.
New Plymouth Mayor Harry Duynhoven told TV ONE's Close Up that there has been a huge outpouring of support for the families of the missing men.
"Our main aim right now is to provide support for those who have been affected by this tragedy."
Duynhoven said the community had also reached out to the staff of the Taranaki Outdoor Pursuit Education Centre (TOPEC).
"Almost every child in the district has been on a TOPEC course at some stage," he said.
While more than 20 volunteers and officers searched the shoreline today, police began making inquiries into how the tragedy occurred.
Officials said TOPEC - the organisers of the exercise - had its gates shut to visitors today as they assisted police and the Labour Department with their inquiries.
Yesterday, Inspector Frank Grant told ONE News that eleven Year 13 students from Spotswood College were with two instructors from TOPEC on a rock-climbing 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, said that the 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 said.