Bryce Jourdain's decision to jump into rough seas off New Plymouth in a bid to rescue two teenagers who had fallen from New Plymouth's Paritutu Rock was typical of the outdoor-pursuits instructor who put students first, says his wife Robyn.
Mr Jourdain, 42, Brazilian international student Joao Felipe Martins De Melo, and Spotswood College student Stephen Lewis Kahukak-Gedye, both 17, have been missing since Wednesday afternoon after three teens fell into the sea while traversing the rock.
One teenager was subsequently rescued after clambering onto rocks.
Speaking at an emotional press conference on Friday, Robyn Jourdain said she and Bryce, who have been married for 18 years, had only recently been chatting about his job.
"We were just talking the other day about his wonderful job and he said, 'No darling, it's not about me, it's about the students'. As soon as I heard what he had done those words (came to mind) 'it's always about the students'," Mrs Jourdain said.
She described Bryce, 42, as a loving husband and dad to Issac, 12, and Grace, 8.
Earlier Friday afternoon Bruce Gedye, father of Stephen Kahukak-Gedye, praised the efforts of the police, search and rescue personnel, and volunteers to find the missing men.
"We are hearing stories of people who are using their own boats and canoes to search. So many people are asking how they can help, including people we don't even know. Your kindness is hugely appreciated," Mr Gedye said.
Incident Controller Inspector Frank Grant said police would begin scaling back their operations after 48-hour extensive marine, land and aerial search.
He said between 50 and 60 personnel, including Army territorials, had been involved in Friday's land search, while surf rescue boats had been scouring the seas and an Air Force Iroquois and Shell-Todd funded helicopter were in the air.
Back on land, an alpine cliff rescue team had also assisted in the search.
"Sadly, I have to say we have not recovered the bodies," Insp Grant said.
With weather conditions expected to worsen over the weekend, a scaled down search would involve a similar number of people on the ground but less personnel on the water or in the air, he said.
"Our thoughts are with the families at this tragic time. We are continuing to support them through this."