Body of NZ student found after being swept away in cave on school excursion

The school has received severe backlash, with parents questioning how the activity was allowed to go ahead in spite of the weather forecast.

The body of a high school student has been recovered from a cave in New Zealand, where he went missing while on a school excursion when heavy storms hit.

Search and rescue teams found the body late on Tuesday inside Abbey Caves, after responding to a distress call just before 10.30am.

A group of Whangarei Boys High School students, accompanied by two supervisors, went ahead with a caving trip despite warnings of severe thunderstorms from MetService.

Whangarei suffered flash flooding on Tuesday morning after receiving 60 millimetres of rain in the three hours to midday.

Photos inside Abbey Cave, where a NZ high school student was killed in flash flooding.
The council said 'only experienced cavers' should enter the underground caves, 'as there are risks from rapidly rising water and roof falls'. Source: Google Users

Family grateful for body to be returned

The boy's devastated family thanked emergency services for finding their son and bringing him home, taking to a local Facebook page to share their thoughts.

“On behalf of the whānau, we cannot express how grateful we are to all those who were involved in helping us find and bring our baby boy back to us," they wrote.

“Police, fire crew, search and rescue, medical crew and so much more. We all felt so supported and cared for throughout the entire process.

“Your tireless efforts and aroha will be with us forever.”

Student 'slipped out of friend's grasp'

The mother of another student who was inside the cave at the time told local media her son thought he was going to die as waters rose rapidly to neck-height.

“He twice thought he was going to die. He called his teacher a hero. He tried to clamber up [out of the water] and felt his strength going and the teacher gave him a push,” she told Stuff.

The boy was holding onto his classmate who slipped from his grasp and he saw him being swept away in the current, despite the effort of the two supervisors to save him.

A fire truck ploughs through water in Waimate, north of Auckland, New Zealand, Tuesday, May 9, 2023. Authorities in Auckland have declared a state of emergency as flooding again hits New Zealand's largest city. (Peter de Graaf/Northern Advocate via AP)
Authorities in Auckland declared a state of emergency as flooding again hit New Zealand's largest city. Source: AP

Backlash against school after 'upsetting' event

That the student went missing has caused consternation and rage in the Northland community, with many questioning why the trip went ahead.

Local media report the group of 15 year 11 students was due to go rock climbing but switched plans due to the weather.

School principal Karen Gilbert-Smith said an investigation would take place after the "hugely upsetting" event.

"In time we will seek to understand how this situation occurred, but for now I ask that we stay united as a WBHS community and provide support where required," she wrote in a Facebook post which attracted hundreds of angry responses.

A Facebook post from Whangarei Boys High School, announcing that one of their students is missing.
The school's announcement on their Facebook page was hit with severe backlash, questioning how the activity went ahead in spite of the weather forecasts. Source: Facebook/Whangarei Boys High School

"That was a dumb decision Whangarei High School!" one angry mum wrote. "There’s been weather warnings for the last couple of months, why would you risk the lives of these students? What did you want to gain and prove!"

Others called the school's actions "disgusting" and "pathetic".

Superintendent Tony Hill said police planned to abandon the search at 5pm on Tuesday, but continued into the night with the help of specialist equipment from Auckland.

"We acknowledge this event has been very distressing for the school and wider community, and that there are a number of questions the public will have," he said.

"At the moment, police's focus is on supporting those affected, and we remind people to please not make assumptions as to what has occurred."

Hundreds of calls for help as storms lash region

The death comes after storms affected much of the North Island on Tuesday and Wednesday morning.

Auckland declared a state of emergency after flash flooding which brought traffic to a standstill, causing accidents.

There are about 120 properties being inspected after flood damage, with more than 300 emergency callouts.

Weather warnings were lifted for NZ's biggest city on Wednesday but remain in the Bay of Plenty and Marlborough.

- with AAP

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