28 May 2015

'We need to understand what's happened'

6:51 am on 28 May 2015

The Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits and Education Centre is again in the headlines after a teenager it was supervising went missing overnight in dense bush.

Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits and Education Centre. TOPEC sign

Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

In 2013, TOPEC was fined almost $270,000 after two students and an instructor died after falling into stormy seas during a climbing exercise on New Plymouth's Paritutu Rock.

It has launched an investigation into the latest incident.

TOPEC was supervising 10 Hawera High School students in a navigation exercise on Tuesday when Phillip Pierson, 14, disappeared.

The teenager was found unharmed just after 11am yesterday by DOC stoat trapper Emma Neal.

"Well he was coming down the river and it was about a [kilometre] from the road to the North Egmont Visitors Centre.

"I just happened to keep an eye out for him, thinking I don't think he would have crossed the road but I'll look anyway and there he was, walking down the river."

Emma Neal.

DOC stoat trapper Emma Neal found Phillip Piersonn just after 11am. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Ms Neal said Phillip was a bit confused, but had done all the right things.

"He said that he walked for as long as he could until it got dark and then pitched a tent in an open area, so he had all the right ideas and was really onto it."

Police Area Commander Inspector Keith Borrell said Phillip was cold and wet when found, and was taken to the hospital for a check, but was fine.

He said the family was stoked to have him home.

"They've just wished, through us, to thank everyone that was involved - they are just over the moon at the fact that everyone has gone out there, looking for their son and have brought him back safe and well to them."

Rescuers at the scene

Rescue workers at the scene of the search yesterday. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

TOPEC's director Steve Ralph refused to be interviewed and instead released a written statement:

"We will be undertaking a thorough investigation and will work with relevant authorities to seek clarification around the student's decisions that led to the search and our processes in managing the situation.

"We are debriefing with our staff in what has been a very stressful situation."

Hawera High School principal Hans Konlechner is also the chairperson of TOPEC.

He took part in the search for Phillip and said it was a huge relief that it all turned out all right.

But he still wanted to get to the bottom of how Phillip became separated from the rest of the group.

"Of course, we need to understand what's happened and what if anything needs to be learnt from it."

Mr Konlechner said he still had great confidence in TOPEC and a strong belief in outdoor education for young people.

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