The death of Nadine Tomlinson and her three-year-old son, Angus, on a northern Otago farm was the community's "worst nightmare", locals say.

For husband and father Scott Tomlinson, it had been "24-hours of hell".

The pair died on their family farm near Waihemo on Sunday afternoon after crashing into a reservoir.

Waihemo ward councillor Jan Wheeler said the whole community's heart went out to the family.

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"It is the worst nightmare and so sad. It's sad for the community and sad for the district and the whole of the farming community throughout NZ will be feeling for this family- they are in our prayers," she said.

It's reported Tomlinson was driving the tractor with a trailer attached and lost control, crashing into a reservoir on the farm.

"It's been 24 hours of hell" says Scott Tomlinson (right), whose wife Nadine died in a tractor accident. Photo / Otago Daily Times

Emergency services were called to the multi-million dollar sheep and cattle farm on Dunback-Morrisons Rd around 5pm yesterday following the incident.

This afternoon, a police spokesperson said the dive squad recovered the bodies of Tomlinson and her son following the incident.

Scott Tomlinson told Stuff he and their other son, 18-month-old Sam, had gone out looking for them two hours after they left home on the tractor to do a couple of jobs around the farm.

He immediately knew what had happened when he came across skid marks near the irrigation reservoir.

"I couldn't see the tractor, I could just see skid marks going into the dam and I knew where she was."

"It's been 24 hours of hell, but with time it will sink in more. At this stage there's enough on [that] it's kept the days going," he told Stuff.

Tomlinson said his wife was a hard-working, driven woman who loved farming.

Angus was full of life and enjoyed spending time with his mum and being on the tractor, he said.

The water reservoir near Dunback in Otago where mother Nadine Tomlinson and her son Angus were killed in a tractor incident. Photo / Dean Purcell
The water reservoir near Dunback in Otago where mother Nadine Tomlinson and her son Angus were killed in a tractor incident. Photo / Dean Purcell

Their deaths were a "freak accident", Tomlinson said.

Local community members believed recent rain making the ground wet was likely a factor in the crash.

"It's steep countryside where it happened and we've had a lot of rain so the ground's very wet and it's clay soil- it's just very, tricky to move around," Wheeler said. "We've been on our farm for thirty five years and my husband is very careful. He is aware just how dangerous it is."

A local from the rural community of Dunback-Morrison agreed.

"It had been raining so the grass was long and slippery, it would have been easy for the truck to slide."

They believed children should not be sitting in farm machinery without proper safety precautions being taken.

But Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said children on tractors was a "normal and important part of growing in rural New Zealand".

"That's been happening for generations- any kid in any vehicle is at risk.

"I don't think anyone should make a call from afar about what's right and what's wrong. It is part of growing up in farms, and kids going to work with their parents can be a positive thing," he said.

"The times an incident happens is pretty rare the amount of times kids are out on farms with their parents. There are risks in every environment."

A local woman who wished not to be named told the Herald she knew Tomlinson and her family.

They were "lovely", "really hard workers", and "really nice people", the woman said.

"It's terrible, it's really terrible."

WorkSafe New Zealand was advised about the incident and announced on Twitter they were investigating.

Otago Federated Farmers president Simon Davies said it might be time to look into policy surrounding farm machinery and children following the incident.

Davies said the family, their friends and the community should be given time to process before any action is taken or a review is made.

"First off, sympathies and condolences to the family and immediate friends. The wider community, it will be a big shock for them," he said.

"Yes, I'm not sure the time is right yet but, in a general term, yes, it needs to be looked at and talked about."

However, National Federated Farmers president Katie Milne said the event was heartbreaking but to call for a review was a knee-jerk reaction.

Families, with their children nearby, operating day-to-day farm business was "part of the fabric of New Zealand life", she said.

"Not knowing the circumstances, it's a big call to say it needs a review. It is too early to make any decisions."

Milne said Federated Farmers policy changes are often enforced following coroners' reports and guidelines for best use.

The incident is the second tragedy to strike the local farming community this year, the woman who knew the family told the Herald.

Palmerston farmer Craig Porter died on a Dunback property in June after his ute rolled while another occupant sustained serious injuries.

The Tomlinsons' farm is located near Waihemo, about 20 minutes inland from the small town of Palmerston which sat between Dunedin and Oamaru.

The rural area was home to sheep and beef farms and stations. New Zealand's largest gold mine, Macraes Mine at Macraes Flat, is nearby.

Elsewhere, an 11-month-old child drowned after falling into a water race in Rolleston, south of Christchurch yesterday afternoon.

A police spokesperson said the child fell into the water race before being found a short time later by a relative.

"The 11-month-old child was taken to hospital in a critical condition but later died," the spokesperson said yesterday.