Seven lost lives remembered
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.