Police officer Mike Toon acted with courage to help his dog and daughter, ending in tragedy

Sergeant Mike Toon drowned in the Manawatu River whilst trying to rescue the family dog. Photo / Supplied
Sergeant Mike Toon drowned in the Manawatu River whilst trying to rescue the family dog. Photo / Supplied

The off-duty police officer who was swept down the Manawatu River trying to save his daughter and dog has been described as a generous man with an infectious personality.

Police prosecutor Sergeant Mike Toon's body was found by members of the police national dive team in the river at 9.30 this morning. He had been missing since last night.

In a media conference outside the Palmerston North Police Station this afternoon, police said they are mourning the loss of a much-respected police officer and a loving father.

"He'd gone into the river to help his daughter, who was trying to rescue their family dog from the water," said Superintendent Sue Schwalger, Central District Commander.

"He acted with the courage and dedication which are characteristic of both a police officer and a father.

"I have been with Mike's family today, and our hearts are with them at this tragic time.
"We, and the wider police family, will provide Mike's family with the support they need."

Toon celebrated 28 years of service to the police last year.

Schwalger said the police prosecutor formed many close friendships during this time.
Toon has been described as "professional, sensitive and patient in his management of prosecution cases".

Schwalger also said he was "a generous man with his time and infectious personality".

"He was a loving family man and a man who would give you the shirt of his back and always had time to help others," said Schwalger.

Police said Toon was a strong swimmer, however conditions in the river last night were challenging.

"The river was as at an increased level and it was flowing reasonably fast," said Schwalger.

Police officers formed a guard of honour as Toon's body was carried into a hearse today. Photo / Manawatu Guardian Alecia Rousseau
Police officers formed a guard of honour as Toon's body was carried into a hearse today. Photo / Manawatu Guardian Alecia Rousseau

Several police officers at the scene this morning formed a guard of honour for one of their own as Toon's body was carried in a body bag into a hearse.

"Some of his colleagues have had the very difficult task of being part of the rescue and recovery operation since last night," said Schwalger.

"I commend their professionalism, and that of all the responders involved, during this tragic event."

Search and rescue volunteers taking a break this morning, after the long search. Photo / Alecia Rousseau, Manawatu Guardian
Search and rescue volunteers taking a break this morning, after the long search. Photo / Alecia Rousseau, Manawatu Guardian

Police will provide support to Toon's fellow officers and have offered welfare assistance.

Judge Lance Rowe paid tribute to Toon in the Palmerston North District Court this morning, where the prosecutor did most of his work.

Toon's daughter was rescued and taken to Palmerston North Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries last night.

Schwalger confirmed that Toon's daughter and dog (whose name she did not know) are both recovering well.

"Obviously at this time it's really tough for the family. They are in shock."

She thanked all the emergency and response services who were part of the search, for their support in such tragic circumstances.

Before Toon's body was found this morning, search and rescue workers were gathered around a spot near Fitzroy Bend.

Relatives were also at the site.

A witness said she was standing near the river when two divers appeared out of the water. One diver went back in and she was asked to move away.

She said the body appeared to have gotten stuck under a "pier" in the river.

As the witness was being led from the site, she described a distressed woman being taken towards the river.

"She was running. She had to be held up by police."

The Fire Service provided a specialist command unit and lighting as police searched continued their search last night.

A resident on Buick Cres, which runs beside the river, said she heard the rescue helicopter searching along the river late last night.

The recreational pathway near the site where Toon's body was found is a popular place where people walk their dogs and ride bikes.

- NZ Herald

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