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Body found in search for missing student in New Zealand cave system

By Tara Subramaniam and Hilary Whiteman, CNN

Rescue workers trying to locate a high school student who went missing in a flooded cave system after a school trip during heavy rain on New Zealand’s North Island, have found a body, according to a statement released Wednesday morning local time from police superintendent Tony Hill, a Northland District Commander.

While the formal identification of the body is yet to take place, police are offering support to the family of the missing student and have concluded the search mission.

Police first received reports on Tuesday morning that a group of high school students were in difficulty at the Abbey Caves in Whangārei, around 180 kilometers (112 miles) north of Auckland.

Of the 15 students and two adults in the group, all but one made it out of the cave safely, police said in a statement posted to Facebook.

An initial search failed to find the boy and officials suspended the search around 5 p.m. Tuesday when night fell.

Police said the body was recovered late Tuesday evening, and was made possible by specialist equipment brought in from Auckland which allowed the search to continue longer.

“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. 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,” the police statement read.

The year 11 students from Whangārei Boys High School (WBHS) were caving as part of an outdoor education class when they “encountered a severe weather event,” the school said in a statement.

“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,” the statement added.

The school said it would open as normal on Wednesday to “maintain a sense of routine” for students and staff.

According to the Whangārei District Council’s website, the Abbey Caves are prone to flash flooding and visitors are warned to check the weather forecast before setting out.

Auckland declared a local state of emergency on Tuesday after a torrential downpour.

The heaviest rainfall occurred on Tuesday between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. local time with rates exceeding 30 millimeters (1.2 inches) per hour.

Auckland was forecast to receive 73.5 millimeters (2.9 inches) of rain by the end of Tuesday, more than half the 120 millimeters (4.7 inches) the city historically receives on average for the month of May.

This is the third significant weather event to hit Auckland since the start of the year.

In February, Cyclone Gabrielle lashed Auckland with relentless wind, rain and waves that killed at least eight people and prompted authorities to order a nationwide state of emergency. And the month before, the city and its surrounding areas were hit by record rainfall that sparked deadly floods.

The-CNN-Wire
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CNN’s Robert Shackelford and Sophie Jeong contributed reporting.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - Asia/Pacific

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