Search and rescue underway for man and children missing near remote beach in Marokopa, Waikato

A major search and rescue operation is underway on the North Island's rural west coast for a missing man and his three young children.

The operation was prompted after a flooded ute was discovered at Kiritehere Beach, an isolated stretch of shore in the rural Waitomo District community of Marokopa.

Detective Senior Sergeant Ross Patterson said on Tuesday that Waikato Police are working to locate an Ōtorohanga man and his three young children, who were last seen in the remote area over the weekend.

The missing individuals are 34-year-old Thomas Phillips, eight-year-old Jayda Jin, six-year-old Maverick Callum-Phillips and five-year-old Ember Phillips.

"Police were notified [on Monday] that the group were last seen at Marokopa on Saturday, and a search and rescue operation has been launched," Det Snr Sgt Patterson said.

"The vehicle used by the man was found at the beach at Kiritehere on Saturday.

"The family's safety is our paramount concern at this stage and that is why search and rescue have been activated." 

Searches of the coastal community will continue on Tuesday, Patterson said, as will canvassing of the local area with staff going door-to-door in Marokopa and Kiritehere.

In an update later on Tuesday morning, Area Commander Inspector Will Loughrin said Waikato Police are now appealing for information from the public regarding any sightings of the missing group.

"There is a large police presence in Marokopa today focused on the search for Thomas and the children," Insp Loughrin said.

"If anyone has seen or heard from Thomas and the kids since Saturday, please contact police immediately."

Ōtorohanga District Mayor Max Baxter told Newshub concerns for the family's welfare are growing "as each hour goes by".

"When I heard yesterday there was a family missing, obviously there was immediate concern, but [I was] fairly optimistic - I was hoping they may have gone into the bush for a bit of a walk, may have got held up somewhere, or just hadn't made contact with family or friends," he said.

"As each hour goes by I suppose there's a wee bit greater concern, especially now the names have been released. I feel for the immediate family and friends… let's hope everything is okay."

Baxter says the waters along the west coast of the North island can be treacherous.

"The west coast is fairly gnarly by default anyway and Marokopa is no exception to that, so it can be a challenging coastline," he said.

"The police are doing everything they can… hopefully they can uncover something reasonably soon."

The base for the ongoing search and rescue operation in the Marokopa area.
The base for the ongoing search and rescue operation in the Marokopa area. Photo credit: Newshub

Residents on a community Facebook page claim the man and his three children had been seen with the ute, which was later flooded by the high tide. 

One resident told Stuff about 40 people were involved in the search and rescue operation.

Anyone with information is asked to contact 105 and quote job number P047915838.