The death of Nadine Tomlinson and her 3-year-old son, Angus, on a northern Otago farm was the community's worst nightmare, locals say.

For husband and dad 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.

Advertisement

"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, on the farm and lost control.

Emergency services were called to the multimillion-dollar sheep and cattle farm on Dunback-Morrisons Rd about 5pm after the incident.

Yesterday afternoon, police said the dive squad recovered the bodies of Tomlinson and her son.

Scott Tomlinson told Stuff he and their other son, 18-month-old Sam, had gone out looking for them two hours after they left 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.

Scott 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.

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

Locals believed recent rain making the ground wet was likely a factor.

"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 35 years and my husband is very careful. He is aware just how dangerous it is."

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

Waitaki mayor Gary Kircher said having 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."

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."

Constable Nathan Bobbette, of Palmerston, said family members gathered at the scene yesterday were distraught. "It's a tragedy for the family. All of the family here and her husband are all very upset.

"It's just a tragic accident that's happened at their family farm."

WorkSafe is investigating.

Nadine Tomlinson grew up on a sheep and cropping farm at Clinton and completed an agriculture degree at Lincoln University.

After shepherding in the North Island for several years, she headed overseas for her OE. On her return, she joined Ballance Agri-Nutrients as a field consultant.

She married Scott and moved to East Otago where the couple started a family. Nadine still did some part-time work for Ballance in its farm sustainability team.

Scott Tomlinson was brought up on a farm in North Canterbury where his parents had a breeding and finishing operation.

Dunback Hotel owner Liz Moir said the accident had shaken and upset the small Dunback community.

"It's just a terrible tragedy. People are very upset that two people have lost their lives. You should be safe at work. The feeling in the hotel last night was sadness that two people from the area have lost their lives."

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

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.

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