Family mourn 'beautiful boy' killed in cave on school excursion

It comes as a father's email to the school the night before the tragedy is revealed.

The family of a Year 11 student who died after being swept away by floodwaters in a cave in New Zealand has paid tribute to their “beautiful boy”.

Karnin Ahorangi Petera was with 14 classmates and two teachers from Whangārei Boys’ High when a storm hit while they were exploring Abbey Caves.

As fast-flowing water filled the caves, quickly reaching neck-height, Karnin was swept out of his friend’s grasp.

Karnin Ahorangi Petera wears a white tshirt and black jacket as he stands for a photo inside a home.
Karnin Ahorangi Petera was killed while on the school excursion on Tuesday. Source: Facebook

“It is with deep sadness that we wish to inform you that our beautiful boy Karnin Ahorangi Petera has indeed tragically passed away during the unfortunate incident at the Abbey Caves,” his family wrote in a post on Facebook.

“He is now laying in state at his home surrounded by all his whanau and friends. We would also like to extend a welcome to anyone else from the community who also loved our baby boy and want to pay their respects.”

The family previously extended their gratitude to the emergency workers who found Karnin’s body late on Tuesday night.

A crowdfunding page set up for the family has raised almost NZ$90,000 for his funeral.

The exterior of Abbey Caves
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

Worried dad’s email to school night before tragedy revealed

The father of one of Karnin’s classmates said he pulled his son out of the excursion at the last minute after receiving an email about the activities planned for Tuesday.

“I became concerned about the safety of the trip when we received an email saying they would be caving instead of rock climbing, due to forecasted rain,” Scotty Booth told Stuff.

“I'm a helicopter pilot, and I know danger when I see it, and there's no good reason to go into a cave during heavy rain.

“The school should have known better – there was only one teacher and an instructor there. There shouldn't have been a fatality on a school trip. It could've been my son.”

Mr Booth emailed the school just after 5pm on Monday night asking if the trip to Abbey Caves was still on due to the weather forecast, but he received no response.

An email from a worried parent to Whangarei Boys' High, questioning their decision to send the students into the caves with heavy rain predicted.
Scotty Booth's email to the school questioned their decision to send the students into the caves with heavy rain predicted. Source:

School releases new statement after backlash

As news circulated on Tuesday morning about the missing student, Whangārei Boys’ High was met with severe backlash from the community questioning why the activity went ahead despite the weather warnings.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, school principal Karen Gilbert-Smith wrote that an investigation would take place after the "hugely upsetting" event. The post attracted hundreds of angry responses and the school was forced to limit comments.

Following confirmation of Karnin’s death, the school’s Board of Trustees releases a second statement.

“Karnin was a treasured and deeply loved son, a brother, a friend to so many, and an inspiration to fellow Year 11 students at Whangārei Boys High School,” the board’s Presiding Member Andrew Carvell wrote.

“As Trustees and parents, we share the hurt this event has caused. We have a care plan in place to monitor the welfare of all students and staff, prioritising those most impacted by the event.”

The school vowed to provide access to counsellors who would “remain in place for as long as it is required”.

New Zealand Police and Worksafe NZ are continuing their investigation.

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