Abbey Caves tragedy: Whangārei Boys’ High dad emailed school, pulled son out of trip night before

A father who pulled his son out of the deadly Abbey Caves trip at the last minute because he was concerned about the weather was “horrified” to find out the trip went ahead after the school ignored his emails.

A Whangārei Boys’ High student drowned after he and 14 of his classmates, accompanied by two teachers, got into difficulty on an outdoor education trip at Abbey Caves.

Search and rescue teams recovered the missing year 11 student’s body on Tuesday night.

Boys’ high parent Scotty Booth emailed the school’s head of outdoor education the night before the trip to ask if it was going ahead considering weather warnings.


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No one responded to Booth’s email and he pulled his 15-year-old son out of the trip.

“Over the weekend, they had started forecasting heavy rain for Tuesday and come Monday evening … I spoke to my wife and she said, ‘Oh [their son] is supposed to be going on that caving course tomorrow.’

“I said that’s not going to happen, not with the weather forecast at all, so surely they’re not going to go.”

Booth had also emailed the school a few days prior to ask what particular caves the kids were going to without any response.


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“The next morning, about 11 am, my wife turns around and says, ‘You’re not going to believe this’.”

Like many of the school parents, Booth and his wife found out about the tragedy through social media.

“I couldn’t believe it, I was like there’s no way they were going to go.

“I was horrified.”

Flowers laid at the entry to Abbey Caves. Photo / Michael Craig
Flowers laid at the entry to Abbey Caves. Photo / Michael Craig

Booth along with much of the Whangārei community is reeling and demanding answers about why the caving trip went ahead amid torrential rain as authorities begin investigating the death of the boy.

“There’s just no words for the actions that they took with those kids that morning, it’s just totally unacceptable.”

Booth said he would be making a formal complaint to police and WorkSafe. WorkSafe has already confirmed it has opened an investigation into the death of the teenager.

Many parents sent their kids to school that day assuming the kids would not go on the trip, Booth said.

“I believe if there were other parents involved in that trip, we wouldn’t be in this situation now.

“I think a mother or father would have spoken up.


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As a helicopter pilot Booth said he knows the importance of making risk assessments, and he couldn’t understand why the school appeared to not follow their own.

“You’re the guardian of my child while he’s under your care.

“These schools … need to have a full-time health and safety manager.”

A detailed risk assessment plan was completed by the school which acknowledged that caves were “prone to flooding” in heavy rain.

The plans include having an instructor check the weather leading up to the trip and check water levels before the trip if there has been rain.

“Postpone trip if water levels may be too high,” the strategy said.


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Whangārei Boys’ High School principal Karen Gilbert-Smith said she knew there would be a lot of questions to answer, “but I am simply not in a position to provide answers at this early stage out of respect for the whānau”.

She broke her silence five hours after the Year 11 student went missing. She had spent the day at the caves while rescuers worked to find the boy.

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