Marokopa mystery: Search first believed family missing for 17 days likely swept into sea – New Zealand Herald

Rozzi Pethybridge, sister of Thomas Phillips who went missing with his three children for 17 days: 'You feel like your heart's whole again.' Video / NZ Herald
By Andrew McRae for RNZ
The team searching for a man and his three children in a remote part of King Country in September initially thought the family were most likely taken by the ocean.
Thomas Phillips, 34, and his children aged 5, 6 and 8 were reported missing from the small coastal community of Marokopa after their vehicle was found on a nearby beach.
A large air, land and sea search for them was suspended after 12 days.
On September 30, the four walked into the family farmhouse.
RNZ made Official Information Act requests to the police, Maritime New Zealand and Fire and Emergency (FENZ). Hundreds of documents were sent back – mainly job sheets, maps and weather information.
Two of the documents were from search and rescue and called Scenario Weighting worksheets, where a group of searchers analysed evidence as proof for or against possible scenarios.
The first one was on day one of the search, September 13. There were six scenarios listed.
These include, ‘All four taken by the ocean’, ‘Not wanting to be found’, ‘Caught by tide and went inland’, ‘Not aware people looking for them’ and being hidden by family on their farm.
Searchers assigned a value to each scenario and a percentage calculation was then done.
Coming out on top was that the four were swept out to sea, second most popular was not wanting to be found and either still in the area or elsewhere. The least popular was being hidden by family.
The second scenario rating was done on day two.
There were slightly different headings for the second sheet but being in the sea came out on top again followed by ‘Despondent, non-suicidal’ which we can assume referred to Thomas Phillips.
A police job sheet from day two reads: ”Although in the first 24-hours Mr Phillips may have not been responding to any search parties in the area, that may now have changed.”
Police went on to write: ”With this in mind consider any search that was conducted in areas where he may have been overlooked to be re-searched whereas now if he is cold and wet and out of provisions, he may call out to searchers.”
Police also wrote: ”Thomas Phillips knows the beach areas well and is unlikely to get lost.”
Much of the searching was hard-slog by land searchers, including steep cliffs, bush, caves and tough weather conditions. Both police and Fire and Emergency used drones during the search. One comment in a FENZ report said: ”We are learning the effectiveness of drones.”
Police reports highlighted what the four were likely to be wearing.
They seemed reasonably dressed for the conditions. All bar one of the children were wearing jackets, as well as their father. Two of the children were noted in one report to be possibly barefooted.
A witness who saw the family on the beach earlier made the comment that they seemed overdressed.
Daily worksheets from searchers showed where they looked, what was discovered, and often referred to searching as purposeful wandering.
Items such as a glove, a cap, lolly wrapper were found, as were footprints, but these were mainly thought not to be relevant.
RNZ asked police for details of the cost of the search, named Operation Phillips.
Police refuse on the grounds of it being prejudicial to the maintenance of the law, namely to the current criminal proceedings.
Thomas Phillips has been charged with causing wasteful deployment of police personnel and resources.
He is due to appear in the Te KÅ«iti District Court on 12 January.

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