Survivor: 'It was just pure panic'

By Andrew Koubaridis

The search for the three missing people continued yesterday. Photo / Christine Cornege
The search for the three missing people continued yesterday. Photo / Christine Cornege

The only survivor to speak out about the New Plymouth rock-climbing tragedy has described how the waves became too big and he didn't think he would get out alive.

Spotswood College student Campbell Shaw was among a group of students at Paritutu Rock on Wednesday when two of the teenagers fell into the waves and one of two instructors with them jumped in to try to save them.

The three were still missing last night despite a three-day search and body-recovery effort.

Campbell spoke of what went through his mind as the tragedy happened.

"There's no words to describe it," he told TVNZ's Close Up programme.

"It was just pure panic. I didn't think I was going to survive myself."

He said the conditions had initially been perfect.

"We weren't supposed to be going to the rock, we were meant to be doing something else, but the decision was made and it was a fine day. But as soon as we got there, the clouds came over and it was raining.

"Everyone was excited about it. It's just a bit of harmless fun, we're all fine, we've got harnesses, it's all good. But it's just a certain point we got to, the waves became too big."

The Close Up reporter said Campbell told him the students weren't wearing harnesses when the waves hit. They were standing in a flat area of rock where they were unlikely to lose their footing

Campbell talked about Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits Education Centre instructor Bryce Jourdain and his bravery after hearing that 17-year-olds Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye and Brazilian student Joao Felipe Martins De Melo - had been swept away.

"As soon as he heard that the students were in the water, he just instantly dove in."

That act of selflessness did not come as a surprise to Mr Jourdain's wife of nearly 18 years, Robyn.

She told reporters at an emotional press conference yesterday: "We were just talking the other day about his wonderful job and he said, "You know darling it's not about me it's about the students. As soon as I heard that is what he'd done, those words just came [back] ... It's always about the students first, always."

Her last memory of him was watching Kiwi runner Nick Willis compete at the Olympics.

"That was exciting, that morning. We just said goodbye as we usually do but he just said to me, which is very uncanny, he said 'darling you mean everything to me. I'll see you tonight'."

She and the family, including children Isaac, 12, and Grace, 9, had moved to New Plymouth 18 months ago and were blown away by the welcome they received.

She did not want to discuss TOpec or the accident, which is under investigation by the Government's labour service and police.

The police incident controller, Inspector Frank Grant would not be drawn on whether charges could be laid.

He said the students who were on the course were interviewed yesterday but TOpec staff, including an instructor who was at Paritutu on Wednesday, had not been spoken to.

A scaled-down search, without helicopters and planes, would resume at first light today - but conditions over the weekend are expected to worsen.

Stephen's father Bruce Gedye urged those searching for his son to "please keep trying".

He said the kindness of people who were using their own canoes and boats to search was appreciated, as were those who attended a vigil near Paritutu Rock on Thursday night.

Meanwhile, there is concern for the survivors of the tragedy.

One German exchange student who also fell into the water has been unable to speak about what happened.

A close friend of the students', River Price, told the Weekend Herald he was swept into the water by the same wave that got Felipe.

"He somehow managed to scramble on to rocks ... He turned back to see if he could see Felipe but I don't think he could ...

"He's still in shock. He's just not there"

- NZ Herald

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