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Police release pictures of missing man's ute as search for him and his three children continues

Newshub logo Newshub 14/09/2021 Lana Andelane
a police car parked in a parking lot: Watch: Waitomo District Mayor John Robertson on The AM Show. © Video - The AM Show; Image - Newshub / Supplied Watch: Waitomo District Mayor John Robertson on The AM Show.

The search for a missing man and his three young children has resumed for a third day in the remote Waitomo District community of Marokopa.

Thomas Phillips, 34, and his three children - Jayda Jin, eight; Maverick Callum-Phillips, six; and five-year-old Ember Phillips - were last seen in Marokopa on Saturday.

Thomas' abandoned ute was found near Kiritehere Beach on Waikato's rugged west coast on Sunday evening, flooded by the high tide. The family notified police on Monday morning, and an intensive search and rescue operation was launched.

In an update on Wednesday afternoon, police released pictures of the ute - a 2004 Toyota Hilux.

"Police continue to ask for sightings of Thomas and his children. In particular, any movements of his 2004 silver/grey-coloured Toyota Hilux prior to it being located on the beach at Kiritehere on Sunday," Waikato West Area Commander Will Loughrin said.

'As time goes on, anxieties increase': Search for missing man and his three children enters third day
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Emergency services are gravely concerned for the welfare of the family, who live on a farm in Marokopa. It's understood Thomas also owns a property in Otorohanga.

Speaking to The AM Show on Wednesday morning, Waitomo District Mayor John Robertson confirmed the search had resumed at daybreak. Ground and air searches were suspended overnight, but thermal-imaging drones remained to scan the area.

"While search conditions aren't ideal, they're okay," he said. "Conditions have been pretty rough the last few days, it's pretty overcast."

Robertson says concerns for the family are mounting, but residents are optimistic that Thomas, a local, is familiar with the rural terrain.

"It's a very close-knit farming community in a reasonably remote part of the King Country. So it's great that communities come together, as you would expect, on these things," Robertson said.

"As time goes on, anxieties increase… there is a feeling that Thomas, he knows how to live in conditions like this, he knows the bush, he knows the area very well, so we're keeping our fingers crossed."

He says a number of theories have been put forward and police remain hopeful that Thomas and the three children are on land, rather than out at sea.

"There's a number of theories out there and police are preparing the search accordingly. 

"The hope is they're on land and that's the hope we want to keep alive."

In the update on Wednesday morning, Loughrin said the physical search is currently focused on the Marokopa and Kiritehere Beach areas as investigators make enquiries to determine the family's movements. Staff were door-knocking residents on Tuesday in a bid to glean further information around their whereabouts. 

"Our ground-based search teams covered a sizeable area yesterday and continue to reassess coastline areas today," he said.

The current weather conditions have not made it possible for the Eagle helicopter, deployed from Auckland Police, or the Coastguard fixed-wing aircraft to scour the area, Loughrin said, although this is being continually reassessed.

Several drones from Fire and Emergency continue to operate on Wednesday. However, thermal-imaging drones deployed on Tuesday night did not locate anything of interest in the Marokopa area.

"Police remain focused and committed to finding Thomas and his children and bringing them home, and we continue to work with and support their extended family."

a car parked in a parking lot © Provided by Newshub

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday afternoon, Loughrin said the disappearance is "out of character" for Thomas, who is well-known in the rural community.

"This is out of character for the family. This is day four. That is why you will see a significant amount of resources have been put into this search and rescue operation to bring Thomas and the kids home."

Loughrin said the family last spoke to Thomas on Saturday evening and there "were no issues raised at the time". 

Authorities are also determining a timeline of events on Saturday, including "what was said, what the intentions of Thomas were in terms of his movement later on that day and [over] the coming days".

He said there is no suggestion of foul play.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Police on 105 and quote file number 210913/1952.

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