It is not just the Elim School, in Auckland, that has been plunged into mourning - parents, teachers, and the whole nation have been shocked by the deaths of the six 16-year-olds and their teacher in a flash flooding accident in the Mangatepopo River in the Tongariro National Park.
The Elim Christian College community is reeling following the confirmation six students and a teacher were killed in a river canyoning accident in the Tongaririo National Park - a total of twelve people had been part of the group, which got into trouble on the Mangatepopo River.
Elim Christian College is not just a place of learning – it is also a place of worship.
There were so many emotional moments at Elim school today - the first when principal, Murray Burton, told the morning school assembly just who had been killed.
Many students learned for the first time that the four girls, two boys and a male teacher from the school had died in a canyoning accident in the Tongariro National Park.
Many arrived at the school unaware of the tragedy, but realised something was amiss when they saw police, family members, tearful fellow students and a large news media contingent.
Principal Murray Burton paid tribute, in turn, to each of those who perished: teacher Anthony McClean, 29, of Howick; and students Natasha Bray, 16, of Pakuranga; Portia McPhail, 16, of Manurewa; Huan (Tom) Hsu, 16, of Farm Cove; Anthony Mulder, 16, of Howick; Floyd Fernandes, 16, of Howick; and Tara Gregory, 16, of Mt Wellington.
Principal Murray Burton: "They are very fine year 12 students. Some of them I believe would have been appointed as prefects next year. They all lead in some way at the college and they are just fine, fine young people."
29-year-old Anthony McClean started teaching PE at the school at the beginning of this year.
Principal Murray Burton: “In one short term, not even a term, he has turned our sport upside down. An absolutely stunning guy recently returned from overseas.”
As the community’s faith was being tested by the heavy toll of the tragedy, the students and teachers at Elim Christian College transformed the chapel wall into a makeshift shrine opening their doors to share in the grief of parents like Andy Bray, Natasha’s father.
Andy Bray: “We've lost some amazing difference makers, some role models - and my daughter was one of them.”
Natasha Bray was being groomed to be the school’s Head Girl next year - her father's battling kidney disease.
“When I said to her honey how do you feel about the rain and what it's going to be like she said “oh my good friend Portiam [who was also a victim] has got this little saying that says “we're going to jump in puddles” dad and what I mean by that is even if its bad we're going to make the most of it”.”
Natasha and another victim, Anthony Mulder, represented the school at a Rotary Leadership camp, where they met Manukau's mayor Len Brown.
Andy Bray says he is being guided by his daughter's words; to try and make the most of life, even when things get really bad: “I guess that's what all the parents are trying to do now - we’re going to try and jump in puddles.”
The survivors and the other members of the Elim School trip arrived back at the school this afternoon - among them were some of the children caught by the flash flood but pulled from the water.
Parents are planning to make a pilgrimage to the spot where their children lost their lives.
As the reality sunk in, the questions began - there are several official investigations underway, including one by the police.
Department of Labour spokeswoman Frances Martin said the Department would also be conducting an investigation.
The Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuit Centre, which ran the course the students were attending, will conduct its own inquiry looking at procedures in place. The horror unfolded at the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre and today Lady Hillary called a halt to the summit walks being held in his memory.
However, the same question is on everyone's mind: how could this have happened?
source: newshub archive