Heartbroken parents of 2-year-old Emily Saunders say their missing daughter "was a happy, cheeky little girl" and have paid tribute to 66-year-old Barry Petrie who died trying to save her.

The search for Emily was suspended yesterday because of bad weather. The girl is still missing after a 4WD she was in, with her parents and Petrie, was engulfed by the swollen Poerua River, on the South Island's West Coast on Wednesday. Petrie's body was found on Friday.

An extensive search has involved a helicopter, jet boats, kayakers, sniffer dogs, specialist search teams, police and the public.

"Our daughter Emily was a happy, cheeky little girl who loved the outdoors. She will be missed by her mum and dad and her older sisters Tiffany and Natalie and all who knew her," Emily's parents, Michael and Sandra, said in a statement yesterday afternoon.


The Saunders also thanked all involved in the search and paid tribute to Petrie.

"Our thoughts are with Barry's family. His efforts trying to save Emily will never be forgotten."

Frank Simpson, who owns the farm where the Saunders worked as sharemilkers, said UK-based relatives of the family would likely fly over to "help the healing".

"We're hoping and praying we can find the little girl," Simpson told the Herald on Sunday. "It helps the closure if they can bring her home."

He described the Saunders as "good people" who were taking the tragedy "bloody hard".

"Both of them have parents in the UK. They're trying to get them out here, to help console them, help the healing."

But he also paid tribute to locals who have done their best to support the search and the family.

"Everyone has rallied around. The couple have been inundated with food and best wishes. The support is overwhelming," he said.

Police were unable to say when the search would be able to resume.