Family say missing south Waikato dad would do anything to protect kids

The family of missing south Waikato man Thomas Phillips says he'd put his life on the line to keep his children safe.

Phillips, 34, and his children Jayda, Maverick and Ember haven’t been seen since Saturday when they left the family farm in Marokopa. His ute was found at nearby Kiritehere Beach on Sunday.

Newshub spoke to Phillips' older sister Rozzi Pethybridge, who says he'd do anything for his children.

"Tom is an amazing dad... loves his kids, he'd do anything for those kids," she said.

Pethybridge said as far as little brothers go, Phillips is a good bugger. She was among those out searching again on Wednesday around Marokopa and nearby Kiritehere beach, where his ute was found in the surf on Sunday.

"I do fear the worst knowing the sea," Pethybridge said. "Spending 27 years on this coast knowing how rough and dangerous it is I am worried a rogue wave has caught one of the kids and he's gone in to save them or multiple kids."

The weather on Wednesday hampered the search for Phillips, 8-year-old Jayda, her 6-year-old brother Maverick and five-year-old sister Ember. Heat-sensing drones found nothing overnight or on Wednesday morning.  

"We are hoping for the best, that Tom's camped out somewhere chilling out with those kids. I know he's got the skills to take care of them for some time in the bush if necessary," Pethybridge said.

The family is distraught at all the speculation around Phillips' disappearance. They said they did alert police as soon as they had concerns. 

His father and sister told Newshub this is completely out of character but he had had his ups and downs. He separated from his wife almost four years ago and had custody of the children.

The family said nothing seemed amiss on Saturday evening when they last saw him.

"Tom's a resilient person," dad Paul Phillips said. "He might have felt under stress we didn't know… maybe he's gone bush and taken his children. He's an extremely good bushman; a good hunter."

"If he's planned this he will be prepared. And they'll be OK," Pethybridge added.

Police are still eager for sightings of the ute before it was found on Sunday.

"The fact no evidence other than the ute has been found has me holding onto [the] hope he's out there keeping those kids safe," said Pethybridge.

And in the rugged and raw landscape, the family said any hope, is hope worth holding on to.