The volunteer firefighter missing after a landslide in Muriwai is local vet, Dave van Zwanenberg.
Firefighters were investigating a flooded house in Motutara Rd when a landslide crashed down from the slope above and crushed the property late last night.
One firefighter was pulled badly injured from the debris. But emergency services had to make the devastating decision to call off the search for their second missing colleague as the saturated land continued to move and the wind belted the west coast.
It wasn’t the first time that landslides had claimed lives in the coastal community.
In August 1965, tragedy struck when landslips came down from the steep escarpment at the southern end of Muriwai Beach village, destroying two baches, after two days of heavy rain.
Killed inside one of them were Isobel Crane and 18-year-old daughter Margaret Crane, while two other members of the family had to be rescued.
In recent years, former residents have been alarmed to find new houses have been built on hillside sections.
The latest death is likely to raise questions about why homes had been built in an area with a history of deadly slips.
Van Zwanenberg, a partner in the Vets North practice, was part of the volunteer fire crew which was investigating the house when the landslide struck just after 10pm.
NZ Horse and Pony Magazine shared a heartfelt message for van Zwanenberg, describing him as a “much-loved and valuable” member of the equestrian community who contributed to its ‘Ask the Experts’ section for more than a decade.
”Our hearts go out to his family, his colleagues, his many friends and his fellow firefighters.”
According to the Vets North website, van Zwanenberg graduated in London in 2005, and initially worked in Devon.
“He is a partner in the practice and is a highly valued member of our equine team. His areas of interest are lameness, reproduction and general surgery. Outside of work, he can usually be found down the beach kitesurfing or when the wind is not blowing wakeboarding.”
One woman wrote van Zwanenberg used to be her vet and he is “lovely, knowledgeable and great at lighting up a stressful situation”.
”Thoughts are with his family at this time.”
Another social media user said he is a “beautiful, giving man” who had helped their pet.
The other firefighter was rescued and taken to hospital in a critical condition.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand deputy national commander Steph Rotarangi said the two firefighters were trapped in a slip. A fire truck was also hit by a landslide.
Rotarangi said when the first firefighter was rescued, they were treated as soon as it was possible.
Asked if there was anyone in the Muriwai house at the time of the callout, she said there were multiple houses impacted. Details were still unclear as to whether anyone else was inside the house at the time.
Drones were being deployed in the search for the missing firefighter and they were working with police and council on geotechnical advice as to when it would be safe to search.
Rotarangi said firefighters continued to be extremely busy in Auckland and across the country. Just under 1800 storm-related incidents had been logged.