Missing boy's family holds silent vigil on river bank

Family on the banks of the Whakatane River waiting while emergency services search for the missing boy. Photo / Greg Taipari
Family on the banks of the Whakatane River waiting while emergency services search for the missing boy. Photo / Greg Taipari

Family of a boy missing after falling into the Whakatane River are holding a silent vigil on the river bank this morning.

About 40 family members are gathered together, hugging and consoling each other as they await the arrival of police divers.

Constable Colin Fraser from the Rotorua police Search and Rescue said they were confident they would find the boy, 13, quickly.

He went missing on high tide and due to a lack of current police believe he will be found close to the spot where he fell in. The boy's name is expected to be released as soon as he is found.

The police dive squad flew into Tauranga this morning and were currently en route to Whakatane. They were expected to arrive shortly.

A LandSAR kayaker searches for the missing boy this morning. Photo / Katee Shanks
A LandSAR kayaker searches for the missing boy this morning. Photo / Katee Shanks

The boy has been described as a student who stood out for the right reasons by his principal Doug McLean.

Mr McLean described the boy, who had been at Whakatane Intermediate School for the past 18 months, as exceptionally polite.

"He was one of those kids who was prepared to give anything a go," Mr McLean said.

"I had him in the sevens side this year and while he didn't know much about the game, he gave it everything."

"Another thing that made him stand out was when you talked to him, he gave you his 100 per cent attention and would always look you in the eye. He had these incredible blue eyes that you couldn't forget."

Mr McLean said receiving the phone call last night had been the worst kind of shock.

"On the last day of school I talked to the students and told them all to keep themselves safe this holiday, especially around water."

The boy had been playing with friends around the base of the Whakatane Bridge around 6pm.

He had been standing on a concrete step before he was seen falling backwards, about one metre, into the water. The boy did not resurface, police said.

Friends contacted police and a search and rescue operation was launched immediately.

Bay of Plenty police spokeswoman Kim Perks said searchers had done what they could along the shoreline, and police were expecting to learn more from the dive search.

"We're just waiting for the divers at the moment."

The Coastguard had searched the water and LandSAR personnel had searched the shoreline last night.

However, the water search was stood down late last night, while the LandSAR team stayed in the area overnight.

- Additional reporting by Rotorua Daily Post

- APNZ

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