New device offers hope for finding loved ones following drowning of Christchurch schoolgirl

Nine-year-old Emily Branje tragically drowned in a freak whitebaiting accident on the West Coast almost a year ago.

In her memory, her family has launched a device that could help locate those lost at sea, faster.

Introducing the drifter - a new piece of search and rescue equipment that could help in the most tragic of circumstances - locating the body of a missing person.

"To be able to focus the resources to a high probable area means that we've got a high chance of bringing that person back to the family sooner," says Paul Lambert, from the Kotuku Surf Life Saving Club.

Janine Branje's only daughter was swept out to sea while whitebaiting in Hokitika with a family member a year ago.

A desperate three-day search came to an end when her body was found 40 kilometres away near Greymouth.

"I remember at the time being really relieved that she was found," Janine says.

"The worst part of everything other than hearing she was missing was the waiting, and pretty sure I can speak for everyone in the family that it was awful while we waited."

Emily Branje.
Emily Branje. Photo credit: Supplied

The prototype, etched with Emily's name, is being tested in Greymouth.

It works like a buoy. Fitted with a GPS, it's able to measure both the currents and undercurrents of the sea which will help them predict which direction the person has drifted.

"Once we've calibrated the units to a missing person, we'll be able to hopefully track the direction and the speed and do some calculations and help focus the resources on the high percentage areas where the search should be focused," Lambert says.

It's largely funded by those who donated to a Givealittle page following the tragedy. Emily's family knew they wanted to give back.

"The purpose is to make sure that down the track that, and sadly it will happen, that you know it minimises the time that people go without their loved ones because for us that was absolutely awful," Janine says.

A device born out of an incomprehensible loss but continuing the legacy of Emily Branje.