It was a rough night for more than 100 surf lifesavers as they searched for the body of one of their own.

Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service president Brent Warner said Hamish had been with the club since he was 5, starting off as a Nipper.

"It's been fairly tough. It's been a rough 20 hours, the Rieger family are a part of us.

"They are long-standing members of this organisation, all their children have grown up here.


"We're very, very proud of the way everyone pulled together and turned up and did what they could do in a professional capacity.

"We had virtually our whole club as well as associate clubs down the coast."

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Lifeguards were out searching from the time of his disappearance about 7pm on Saturday until about 12.45am yesterday, and hit the water again at first light.

Pairs searched the rocks on Mauao and Moturiki while six IRBs searched the seas.

The Tect Rescue Helicopter searched from the air.

Mr Warner said between 120 and 150 people, who were all experts in their particular fields, were on the water and scouring the rocks at Mauao and the islands off the beach.

The Mauao base track was closed to all members of the public from 11am for more than an hour after a member of the public spotted him in a little water pool.

Lifeguards stood guard at the entrances to all tracks and groups of walkers milled around the surf club trying to discover what was happening.

Police officers were driven to the track on the back of surf club quad bikes.

The search for the missing 17-year-old Hamish Rieger's body. Photo/George Novak
The search for the missing 17-year-old Hamish Rieger's body. Photo/George Novak

Local woman Erica Devoy was on Leisure Island with her husband and two children when the teen was swept away.

The waves were "so aggressive" the family decided to walk out to the end of the island after dinner to watch them crash against the rocks.

Others were on the island doing the same thing, including a group of three boys who were standing on the rocks near the blowhole. A big wave came along and covered the trio.

"When it went back there were only two boys."

Mrs Devoy said the drop off the front of the rock where Hamish would have fallen was about 2m.

"The two boys came up. They were crying. They were in shock," she said.

Her husband tried to peer down to make sure the boy wasn't stuck while others called 111. "It's insane that an innocent wave just took him. They were boys being boys."

The police expressed their appreciation for all those who were involved in the search, especially the Coastguard and members of Surf Life Saving NZ.

Inspector Karl Wright-St Clair, acting Area Commander for Western Bay of Plenty Police, said:

"Hamish and his family have contributed a great deal to the community through their service to Surf Lifesaving and our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time."