The principal of a Northland school responsible for a class trip in which a student was swept away inside a cave has promised a full investigation into the ordeal.
Whangārei Boys’ High School principal Karen Gilbert-Smith has spoken out five hours after the Year 11 student went missing at Abbey Caves in Whangārei amid torrential weather.
The student is yet to be found despite a large-scale search and rescue operation.
Questions about why the school went out despite weather warnings still remain unanswered.
Gilbert-Smith said described the event as “hugely upsetting” for her school.
Emergency services at Abbey Caves in Whangārei, where a student is still missing. Photo / Michael Cunningham
An inflatable rescue boat has been brought in to help with the search for the missing student. Photo / Michael Cunningham
She said an Outdoor Education class was on a caving trip when they “encountered a severe weather event”.
Police earlier confirmed the group, believed to involve 15 students and two teachers, got into difficulty around 10.35am.
“A full and comprehensive investigation of this situation will occur,” Gilbert-Smith said.
“But for now I have asked the WBHS community to stay united and provide support where required.”
Gilbert-Smith said the current focus was on supporting whānau, staff and students involved as well as the wider school community with help from iwi and other agencies.
“My thoughts and aroha are with all concerned, especially the whānau of the young person who is missing.”
An aunt of the boy still missing has called for prayers from the community to help find her “lost” nephew.
The boy’s father was earlier seen today arriving at the caves, looking visibly upset. Another person there thought to be whānau, comforted him with a lengthy hug.
Parents of other students not involved in today’s ordeal, have shared their outrage online about the school trip going ahead despite well-publicised weather warnings.
“Absolutely insane that the school went ahead with this with all the warnings and rain forecast! Those poor parents, I’d be beside myself,” one wrote.
The chairman of the school’s board, Andrew Carvell, told Stuff Gilbert-Smith had notified him about the incident this morning and the school’s thoughts were with the family.
”It’s a very traumatic situation for [those] involved. We’re hoping for a positive outcome ... We anticipate there are going to be questions. I think those questions are reasonable questions to ask.”
Northland District Commander Superintendent Tony Hill said the incident was “still very much developing”.
Abbey Caves is prone to flash flooding, according to the Whangārei District Council website. Today’s rainfall has flooded the area, turning small streams into rivers.
To access Organ Cave, people must climb down some large rocks and boulders and a torch is needed to be able to see within its limestone walls.
A specialist cave rescue team and Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) have been brought in by Police Land Search and Rescue as well as a police dog handler.
Cordons are in place on both sides of Abbey Caves Rd to stop people from accessing the site.
Ambulances and firefighters were also at the caves.
Students from the Outdoor Education class were taken back to school where they received further medical treatment and were reunited with anxious parents waiting outside the main building.
Police and school staff earlier stopped motorists at the Western Hills Dr entrance and turned anyone away without a legitimate reason for being on site.
A small group of people believed to be parents of the students involved were gathered outside the main building, where the atmosphere appeared tense. Very little was said between the group.
The group were in Organ Cave at Abbey Caves, pictured, when they got into trouble. Photo / File
Gilbert-Smith said her school would be open on Wednesday to help maintain a sense of routine for staff and students, for whom support would be available
Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you