Students, teacher die in river tragedy

By Elizabeth Binning

Five people believed to be from Elim Christian College in Howick have now been confirmed dead in a canyoning trip down the Mangatepopo River near Tongariro that went horribly wrong.

One of the dead is an adult, believed to be a teacher. The other four are students.

There are still two people missing, believed to be students.

Search and rescue have recovered five bodies.

The students were part of a 40 strong group on an outward bound river trip with the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre (OPC).

It's understood that one student, who suffered head and back injuries, managed to pull himself out of the water and clamber up rocks to safety where he was found and taken to hospital.

His condition was not known late tonight.

A helicopter searched the river before dark, and another helicopter with night vision capability was grounded in Turangi due to fog.

Pilot Dan Harcourt from the Taupo based Lion Foundation Rescue Helicopter said they would try to go in if the weather cleared, too search for the two remaining missing students.

A group of students attending a week-long outdoor education course at the OPC in Turangi went missing when they were separated from a larger party and swept away by rising waters.

Before the discovery of the five bodies, the school's principal, Murray Burton, confirmed students from his school were among those involved in the canyoning.

He said the students did not show up to be collected along with other students at the end of the activity late in the afternoon.

Mr Burton was informed they were missing about 5.50pm.

"From what I understand they were well equipped for the journey with wetsuits, life jackets and harnesses," he told NZPA.

"It is a fairly standard sort of activity. I guess it was the OPC's call as to whether they should still go and I have no reason to doubt their judgment."

A spokeswoman from Taumarunui police said the conditions were pretty rugged with very heavy rain.

"They've got groups of people up there searching for the children and that's about all we really know at this point in time.

"Everyone has gone flat tack to get to the various areas and the various bridges and look for these children."

The grandfather of one Auckland student attending the centre earlier said he understood the students from different schools were split into four groups and one group was missing.

"They'd been in camp for three or four days and today a river trip was supposed to have been the highlight," he told NZPA.

- with NZPA

- NZ Herald

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