Seven lost lives re­mem­bered

Taupo Times - - YOUR LOCAL NEWS -

The Man­gatepopo Gorge ca­noe­ing tragedy is re­mem­bered 10 years on.

Elim Chris­tian Col­lege prin­ci­pal, Mur­ray Bur­ton, thinks about what the six pupils who died in a tragic ac­ci­dent ten years ago, would be do­ing now.

On April 15, 2008,Natasha Bray (16), Por­tia McPhail (16), Huan (Tom) Hsu (16), An­thony Mul­der (16), Floyd Fer­nan­des (16), Tara Gre­gory (16) – and teacher An­thony McClean (29) died in a flash flood­ing ac­ci­dent in the Man­gatepopo River in the Ton­gariro Na­tional Park. New Zealand went into shock over the tragedy.

The stu­dents were tak­ing part in a ca­noe­ing ac­tiv­ity at the Hil­lary Out­door Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tre, when they were swept away in the flood.

‘‘I knew each of them well and was aware of their hopes and dreams,’’ Elim Chris­tian Col­lege prin­ci­pal, Mur­ray Bur­ton said.

Bur­ton at­tended a me­mo­rial ser­vice at the Hi­lary Out­doors Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tre, along with other rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Elim Chris­tian Col­lege, last Sun­day.

A fam­ily mem­ber, past and present trustees from the ed­u­ca­tion cen­tre, Ngati Hikairo rep­re­sen­ta­tives, lo­cals, and some po­lice of­fi­cers went to the Hi­lary Out­doors Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tre to pay re­spect for the ten-year­an­niver­sary

They all met down by the river be­fore com­ing back to the me­mo­rial sites.

Remembering each of the stu­dents isn’t hard for Bur­ton,

‘‘We didn't hope for this, we didn't want this but we had to fig­ure out how we could grow from it. ’’

and he can pic­ture where they would have headed had their lives not been cut short.

‘‘Floyd was re­ally good at mu­sic. I as­sume he would have had some sort of mu­si­cal fu­ture,’’ Bur­ton said.

‘‘Natasha was cre­ative and com­mu­nica­tive. I imag­ine she would have gone on to AUT [Auck­land Univer­sity of tech­nol­ogy] to study a Bach­e­lor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions.’’

‘‘While An­thony was very good at chef­ing. That stands for it­self.’’

The tragedy shaped Bur­ton’s life – not only as a per­son but as a prin­ci­pal.

‘‘I’ve grown as a per­son. It re­ally chal­lenged me in terms of lead­er­ship,’’ he said.

‘‘We didn’t hope for this, we didn’t want this but we had to fig­ure out how we could grow from it. Most people tend to grow when times are tough. Tough is not al­ways bad, but it can be hard.’’

The ac­ci­dent made the school look at how strong it was, how they could learn from it and how they could pre­pare for some­thing sim­i­lar, Bur­ton said.

‘‘It had a ma­jor im­pact on ev­ery­one.’’

The school held their own spe­cial me­mo­rial last Fri­day in re­mem­brance for its stu­dents.

Not a day goes by when they don’t think about the event, Hil­lary Out­doors chief ex­ec­u­tive, Gra­ham Seat­ter said.

‘‘[It has] had a wide-reach­ing im­pact on the or­gan­i­sa­tion, in­clud­ing a com­pete over­haul of our safety sys­tems,’’ Seat­ter said.

‘‘Our heart­felt thoughts and sym­pa­thy re­mains with the par­ents and fam­i­lies of the six stu­dents and teacher, and all those af­fected by the event.’’

Seat­ter said the me­mo­rial started as a low-key event with just the ed­u­ca­tion staff there but in­vi­ta­tions were then ex­tended to other par­ties.

Local Shane Ish­er­wood lives 5km from the Out­doors Cen­tre, as he did 10 years ago. He still re­mem­bers that day like it were yes­ter­day.

‘‘We all went up there to sup­port OPC as a hapu [af­ter it hap­pened]. They are our neigh­bours,’’ he said.

What Ish­er­wood re­calls most about that day, was how wet it had been.

‘‘It had been rain­ing for quite a bit – about three days. All those rivers – Whaka­pa­panui, Man­gatepopo, and Whanganui – were in flood.’’

He vividly re­mem­bers driv­ing to work, over the Man­gatepopo Bridge, and see­ing how swollen the river was.

Now, he can’t drive over that bridge without think­ing about what hap­pened.

‘‘You can’t help but think about it. We drive over that bridge ev­ery morn­ing when we go to work and ev­ery evening when we come home,’’ he said.

‘‘We think about them all the time.’’

Ish­er­wood was not able to at­tend the me­mo­rial but says they were there in spirit for their neigh­bours.

His son has made a carv­ing for the me­mo­rial ser­vice.

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