Boy slipped from classmate’s grip in cave and was swept away

The mother of a boy who saw a classmate swept away in floodwaters on a Northland school caving trip says she waited hours to find out if her son was alive.

The anguished mum phoned her boy but the child and his traumatised classmates were told by police not to answer their phones.

The mother, who spoke to Stuff on the condition she not be named, said her son described struggling to get to higher ground amid the rising waters and fearing for his life as his strength failed before a teacher pushed him to safety.

But while she praised the actions of the teacher at that moment, she said her 15-year-old and his Whangārei Boys’ High School classmates should never have been in the caves given rainfall warnings.

* Student swept away on school trip wasn’t meant to be caving, leaked email reveals
* School trip to Northland caves in severe weather should have been cancelled – caving instructor
* Torrential Tuesday: Auckland’s downpour by the numbers – with more to come

One teen remained missing on Tuesday night after being swept away, as questions mounted over why the outdoor education trip proceeded in the face of worsening weather. An email from the school showed a planned rock climbing trip had been switched to caving despite the growing risk.

The mother said communication from police and the school to frantic parents had been “shocking”.

“I can’t understand why this happened, but then I can’t understand why they went in the first place…You put complete trust in them with your child and you expect them to err on the side of caution.”

The mother also said she was later told by her visibly shocked son that the boys were told by police not to answer their phones as anxious parents called to check on their safety after receiving no word from the school.

As the weather forecast worsened on Tuesday morning the mother asked her son if the outing was still going ahead and was surprised to see no communication from the school.

Whangārei Boys’ High School should have rung the parents of students on the trip, the mother said.

Denise Piper/Stuff

Whangārei Boys’ High School should have rung the parents of students on the trip, the mother said.

She described having a bad feeling about the day but was unaware of the drama unfolding as torrential rain struck the region, flooding the Abbey Caves system.

A co-worker told her about the situation at 11am, assuming she had been made aware.

“She said ‘you’ve heard about the caves eh?’ It was all over social media.”

When she first contacted the school as news of the rescue was underway, the mother was told a statement would be coming via email.

“I just wanted to know if my son was alive or not. It’s worth more than a bloody email. You think they’d have the decency to phone parents, not email.”

“There were 14 students (on the trip), it’s not like 100. How hard is it to call the parents involved and let them know their son is accounted for?”

A school social worker called later in the afternoon to let her know her son was unharmed and could be picked up from the school.

The mother said it was a responsibility the principal should have taken given the seriousness of the situation.

Her son had described water in the caves rising from waist to neck height in a matter of minutes as students scrambled to safety.

“He twice thought he was going to die. He called his teacher a hero. He tried to clamber up (out of the water) and felt his strength going and the teacher gave him a push”.

But one boy had slipped from a classmate’s grasp and been swept away in the strong current despite the efforts of two adults to save him.

A boat on the back of a fire ute arrived at Abbey Caves in the search for the missing boy.

Susan Edmunds/Stuff

A boat on the back of a fire ute arrived at Abbey Caves in the search for the missing boy.

Following the rescue, the boys were escorted back to the school hall where parents could meet them.

Emotions were running high before the reunion with one parent swearing at staff to tell them where their child was.

The mother pushed through police and medics surrounding the boys to hug her son.

“I’m his mother and he was there, I’m not letting them lead him past without me touching him and giving him a hug.”

The remaining boys were showing signs of survivors’ guilt, asking if they could have done more to help, despite assurances they couldn’t have.

The mother was concerned her son and his classmates were showing signs of post-traumatic stress and wanted professional counselling from specialists through ACC made available should they need it.

“He seems zoned out, he’s just staring off into space.”

She was also second-guessing letting him go on the trip, having assumed safety would be well in hand given the stringent regime schools had to maintain and previous incidents like the 2008 Mangatepopo Canyon disaster, which claimed seven lives in a flooded river.

Her son had told her the teacher responsible for the trip had “told them he was done” and could not go on with teaching after the incident.

“I do feel sorry for the teacher and the family who might be getting the worst news about their boy.”

A police spokesperson said the students were taken to a separate room when they returned to the school “in order for police to ensure their immediate welfare”.

“This was to make sure the students were accounted for; so they could be assessed by paramedics; so they received the support they needed, and to confirm the students were reunited with their families,” the spokesperson said.

Whangārei Boys’ High School has been approached for comment.

Source link

Leave a Reply