The group of 10 girls who went missing in the lower Kaimais last night have returned with their fellow classmates to the Ngamuwahine Lodge campsite today.
The Tauranga Intermediate students aged 11 and 12-years-old went missing in the bush while undertaking a fauna exercise as part of a school camp on Tuesday.
A search and rescue effort was mounted when the group failed to return around lunchtime.
The group of students were located by a field team at about 8pm “wet, cold and generally in good spirits” and marched out of the bush to be reunited with parents just after 10.30pm.
Operations manager for Tauranga Search and Rescue Bob Mankelow says the girls were found 10km from the lodge and did not have an adult with them, were wearing light clothing and some were in bare feet.
“They’d run out of daylight basically.
“Once they realised they made a mistake they didn’t correct it by going back.”
Speaking with SunLive today Tauranga Intermediate principal Brian Diver says the girls did everything right except they kept walking.
“I take my hat off to the kids, they followed the procedure we told them. That is, stick together, don’t ever split up,” says Brian.
“One thing they did do was they kept walking, and they walked a long way into the bush, so by the time the Search & Rescue ground party found them they had to march them out again.”
The girls were among 50 students from Tauranga Intermediate doing fauna observation near the bush edge in the lower Kaimais while on an annual school camp at the lodge.
They were supervised by three adults and one parent.
“This group wandered off a side path,” says Brian.
“The kids had instructions they were to rendezvous at the bridge at a certain time. The staff realised the ten were missing and conducted their own search, they went up the loop track to raise the kids.”
Brian says when teachers realised they could not locate the children they contacted the specialised Education Outside the Classroom teacher who raised the alarm with police and Land Search and Rescue.
A search party entered the bush soon after it got dark with the assistance of the TrustPower TECT Rescue helicopter and Auckland based Eagle helicopter.
The girls were found by a land rescue member at 7.50pm and walked out of the bush to be reunited with parents and teachers at the lodge at 10.40pm.
The students were given a complete medical exam before returned to their parents “fit and well, and in good spirits”.
“I was really surprised at their resilience, because they had done a fair bit of hiking,” says Brian.
“And they are all returning to camp today.
“Everything’s calmed down now, and we had a safe conclusion which is the main thing.
“We are having a de-brief today, but basically they just wandered off.”
Brain wants to thank the Tauranga Police, the TrustPower TECT rescue helicopter, the Eagle, the Four Wheel Drive Club, Ken Curtis Buses, and Tauranga Intermediate staff and parents.
“Because their exemplary co-ordinated service led to the incident being brought to a quick conclusion without anybody being harmed.”