"These times can be tragic and hard but they bring out the best in people."
Those are the words from a Waihī Beach lifeguard about to enter day five of the search for missing teenager Jaden Chhayrann.
The search has involved countless hours of people from all over the Coromandel and Bay of Plenty region looking for the swimmer, who got into difficulty at Waihī Beach while on a school geography trip from Hamilton's Melville High School.
Waihī Beach Surf Lifesaving Club president Dave Litton said the teams of searchers were trying to stay optimistic and focused on their goal of returning Chhayrann to his family.
The 17-year-old has been missing since Thursday.
Chhayrann is presumed drowned. Police have referred the case to the coroner as the search continues and his school considers an independent investigation into the suspected tragedy.
On rocks near the beach, a bouquet of flowers has been placed as well as a makeshift shrine of fruit, flowers and a fish and chip box.
Litton has been involved with the search for Chhayrann from day one.
He told the Bay of Plenty Times at Waihī Beach yesterday the search and rescue teams were focussed on their goal of getting Chhayrann back to his family.
They were staying optimistic about Chhayrann being found alive, and would not rule it out. They also knew, however, the chances of that happening narrowed with each day he was not found.
"The longer [the search] goes, the wider the search area goes," Litton said.
Surf lifesavers were doing visual searches from IRBs and jetskis within a 500-metre range along the coast where Chhayrann was last seen, as far as Bowentown. They were mainly staying within 200 metres of shore.
He was not sure how many people were helping with the search but said multiple surf lifesaving clubs, including Whangamata, had been called in.
"That allowed us to rotate the crews," he said.
Chhayrann's family, who are from Cambodia, have a Red Cross support person helping them, Litton said.
"There's been a number of people who have offered to help ... these times can be tragic and hard but they bring out the best in people," he said.
"That's gone a long way to helping us to do our job."
Melville High School said it was considering starting an independent investigation into what happened on the school trip.
In a newsletter, principal Clive Hamill said: "The board of trustees is hosting a special meeting on Wednesday, February 26, to receive my initial report on the incident and will be considering the employment of an independent investigator to undertake a thorough review.
"They will then meet in private with the extended Chhayrann family."
The school confirmed that the incident happened during an annual two-day senior geography trip to Waihī Beach.
Hamill also revealed that students and staff who had been on the trip were welcomed with a special blessing service at the school marae on Friday evening - just a few hours after the tragic turn of events.
He described emotional scenes at the service.
"Over a hundred students, parents, teachers and whānau joined us in welcoming home the year 13 students and their teachers.
"The service was opened by our kaumātua, Tutu Ormsby, and included prayers and blessings offered by a Buddhist monk from our Cambodian community; as they joined us in mourning the loss of one of their own," he said.
"The service, prayers, red-string bracelets and water blessing a moving impact on the students and all those present."
Yesterday, Waihī Beach was quiet and solemn with just a few families and tourists visiting.
Line Eppler, a tourist from the Jutland region of Denmark, told the Bay of Plenty Times she had a "newfound respect" for the sea in New Zealand after hearing about Friday's tragedy.
Waihī Beach was similar to Danish coast, she said, and her region regularly had visitors who were unaware of the dangers.
However, she said she had not been told about any danger at Waihī Beach before swimming.
"It seems like today we need to have extra respect," she said, and wouldn't swim any higher than her waist.
Otawhiwhi kaumātua Roger Tuanau said there will be a rāhui set in place, but he was not yet sure when it would be implemented or where its boundaries would be.