A high school student died during a class trip to a series of New Zealand caves as severe weather hit the area, officials said Wednesday. The boy's body was found after rescuers spent a day searching for him.
A group of 15 students and two adults from Whangārei Boys' High School in northern New Zealand went to the Abbey Caves Reserve on Tuesday morning as part of an outdoor education class, according to police and school officials. When severe weather struck the area, the group left the caves, and one student was unaccounted for, principal Karen Gilbert-Smith said in a statement.
A man who was working near the caves told the New Zealand Herald three students ran to him in tears saying they needed his phone. Caleb Salisbury told the Herald he went to help the group and tried to enter the caves when the adults realized a student was missing.
"The water was just so intense," Salisbury told the newspaper. "It was a serious deluge of water, like, seriously bucketing down."
According to BBC News, the cave system is prone to flash flooding. When the storm struck, about 5 inches of rain fell in the area and there was widespread flooding, according to the Agence France-Presse news agency.
The missing student's body was found late Tuesday evening after special equipment was brought in from Auckland that allowed searchers to look for the student longer, police Superintendent Tony Hill said in a statement.
"It is really important for me to let you know how devastated we are that one of our whānau have lost a much loved, and treasured, son and brother," Gilbert-Smith said in a statement posted to Facebook, using a word from the Indigenous Maori people that loosely means "family." "… The impact of this tragedy is being felt widely amongst our school staff, students and community."
The student wasn't identified and few details were provided about the circumstances surrounding his death.
"I realise that people have lots of questions but I simply am not in a position to provide answers at this early stage out of respect for the whanau," Gilbert-Smith said.
Hill urged people to not make assumptions about the incident.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins called the student's death a tragedy, according to the Herald.
"I think it is every parent's worst possible nightmare to send your child off to school in the morning and not have them returned safely home in the evening," he said.
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