Family of young cousins killed in Far North farm accident overwhelmed by public support

By Peter de Graaf of RNZ

The family of two young cousins who died in a Far North farm accident say they have been overwhelmed by an outpouring of kindness and support.

The boys, a six-year-old from Perth and a four-year-old from Auckland, had been holidaying on their grandmother's farm at Pēria, east of Kaitāia, when the utility terrain vehicle they were in struck a boulder and careered into a deep waterhole at Waikainga Stream.

The accident occurred on December 29 on a section of road with no safety barriers. The driver and three other passengers in the vehicle escaped with moderate injuries.

An aunt of the boys, Mahdi-Jhan Sandford, from Western Australia, started a GoFundMe appeal on Monday to help the two families with repatriation, funeral, and other costs.

More than AU$83,000 (NZ$90,000) was raised in the first 48 hours.

Sandford said the whānau had been overwhelmed by - and felt immense gratitude for - the outpouring of kindness, support and help they had received. 

That included the response from the local marae, emergency services, the search and rescue crew, the police dive team, and all those who had donated to the GoFundMe appeal.

Every contribution, big or small, would help the family's healing and recovery, she said.

Sandford described the boys as "two irreplaceable lights in our lives". They had been doing what they loved best - hanging out with their cousins, going on adventures, exploring and running wild on Grandma Noni's farm.

Sandford said no words could capture the magnitude of the families' loss, or the "unique spark" that made the boys so special. 

She described the six-year-old as "our radiant sunshine, our inquisitive bug-man, our fruit-bat, our sunny-bunny, our mischievous cheeky-monkey".

His younger cousin, with his irresistible cheekiness, boundless cheer and adventurous spirit, "lit up every space he entered with an inextinguishable brightness".

"Losing you both has shattered hearts beyond repair," she said.

Sandford said the family was immensely grateful to the local iwi, Ngaire Tauhara-White and Marsh Fletcher of Kauhanga Marae for their unwavering support, heartfelt karakia, and for ensuring a rāhui was in place where their precious boys were lost. 

They were also profoundly thankful to Northland's emergency services and Search and Rescue for their support and assistance.

Sandford said the whānau especially appreciated the New Zealand Police and their police family liaison representatives, Michelle and Neil.

"Your support and guidance were indispensable, and without it, navigating the events would have been even more daunting," she said.

"To the adept dive team, our gratitude knows no bounds. Your expertise played a crucial role in bringing our boys back to the whenua under incredibly challenging circumstances and conditions. Words cannot adequately express the depth of our thanks and love for your remarkable efforts."