New Zealand Family Feared Missing Returns from Camping Trip After Putting Relatives Through '17 Days of Hell'

"For the outcome to be what we always wanted is fantastic," Waikato West Area Commander Inspector Will Loughrin said during a press conference

Kiritehere Beach
Photo: Shutterstock

A New Zealand family that had gone on a weeks-long camping trip and was feared missing by their loved ones returned to them earlier this week.

Last month, on Sept. 11, a man identified as Thomas Phillips by The New Zealand Herald took his three young children — Jayda Jin, 8, Maverick, 6, and Ember, 5 — out to camp near Marokopa, an area located on the North Island of New Zealand.

After the family was not heard from after a short time period, the group was reported missing, and Phillips' silver Toyota Hilux was then found abandoned near Kiritehere Beach. Family and friends had assumed the worse, as the surf near the area was particularly rough.

"Because of where the vehicle was found we are understandably very anxious and fearful for the safety of Tom and the children," the family said in a prior statement that was shared by Waikato police on Sept. 14. "It is possible that they were all swept off the beach as the sea was particularly wild over the weekend."

The family also reported that they last saw Phillips and his three kids at a family farm the day they left for their trip, Waikato police added in their statement. They indicated that there was no noticeable change in Phillips' behavior at the time.

For about two weeks, police, family, friends, and volunteers then searched for the family, The Washington Post reported. Local police said they used various search methods, including ground and coastline-based searches.

"It had seemed pretty obvious that they had gone into the sea," Rozzi Pethybridge, Phillips' sister, previously said to The New Zealand Herald. "Hope dwindled and we sort of became more and more resigned, and sad, just deeply sad."

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Those in search of the family of four did their best to remain positive, however, and held onto hope that the father and his kids would be found safe and alive.

"There was just a feeling they were still alive," one of the search volunteers, Wikitoria Day, told The Otago Daily Times.

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After 12 total days of looking for the foursome, police suspended the search, though they said in a statement that they would pick up efforts if there was any indication that the family was still alive.

Four more days then went by without any sign of the group, before Phillips and his three kids entered their family farm unharmed on the fifth day.

According to police, Phillips had planned the outing with his children but did not make others aware that they would be taking the lengthy trip. Police noted that they would speak with the family to track their movement and learn more about the excursion.

"We are so pleased that the family have returned home," Waikato West Area Commander Inspector Will Loughrin said in a statement. "A huge range of people and resources were involved in the search for the family, this search wouldn't be possible without you. We are so grateful to you."

Loughrin later added in a press conference, per The New Zealand Herald, "This is a family that experienced 17 days of hell, really. This is a community that experienced 17 days of hell wondering what had happened to this family and these children. For the outcome to be what we always wanted is fantastic."

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