Searchers will continue hunting at first light tomorrow for the bodies of three people in rough seas off New Plymouth's Back Beach.

Bryce John Jourdain, 42, and Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye and Joao Felipe Martins De Melo, both 17, disappeared during a climbing expedition at Paritutu Rock yesterday afternoon.

The teenagers fell into the water and Mr Jourdain dived in to try to save them.

Incident controller Inspector Frank Grant said this afternoon that the search for the trio was now focussing on body recovery.


They had been missing for too long in difficult and cold conditions for police to hold onto hopes of finding survivors, he said.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force Iroquois was involved in today's search, as well as five Taranaki Surf Lifesaving inflatable rescue boats and rescue vessels from South Taranaki Coastguard and TSB Cape Rescue.

The Taranaki Community Rescue Helicopter and Shell Todd completed aerial searches today, and search and rescue volunteers and police completed shoreline searches, Mr Grant said.

The police national dive squad was also in New Plymouth today, but were unable to get into the rough water.

The search operation will continue from about 7am tomorrow.

The missing students, part of a group of 11 Year 13 students from Spotswood College, were with Mr Jourdain and another instructor from the Taranaki Outdoor Pursuit Education Centre (Topec).

Mr Grant said officials at Topec could be interviewed as part of a police investigation into the incident.

He did not answer questions on the details of the incident, including whether the students were fitted with harnesses and ropes.


Spotswood College board of trustees chairman Ross Dingle said the school's focus was on supporting its students and the families of the missing.

He would not comment on the cause of the tragedy.

Mr Jourdain and Mr Kahukaka-Gedye are both from New Plymouth, while Mr De Melo is from Brazil.

A third boy also fell in the water but he was able to cling to a rock and was winched to safety by the Taranaki Community Rescue Helicopter.

He was treated for hypothermia but had been discharged from hospital.

Police were called at 1.20pm and despite a search by two inflatable boats, Taranaki Coastguard, about 40 police and a plane, there was no sign of Mr Jourdain or the two boys.

The other members of the climbing party were taken to hospital where they were treated and discharged.

Mr De Melo's father, Celio Fernando, told media in Brazil his son was an athlete who played many sports.

He still hoped his son had swum to safety and was waiting to be rescued.

Mr De Melo's family, who live in Ceara in northeastern Brazil, was told of the incident yesterday afternoon and were in contact with Brazilian authorities in New Zealand.

His aunt said Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye was her nephew's friend.

A police investigation into the incident would be conducted alongside an investigation by the Government's labour service.