“17 days of hell”: Missing man charged for wasting police time
A New Zealand man who went missing with his three children has been charged with wasting police resources following a 17-day search for them.
Thomas Phillips, 34, is due to appear in the Te Kuiti District Court in November in relation to the search and rescue operation called Operation Marokopa.
“The man will be appearing on the 5th of November on a charge of causing wasteful deployment of police personnel and resources,” police said.
Operation Marokopa was related to the search for Mr Philips and his three young children: Jayda Jin, 8; Maverick Callum-Phillips, 6; and Ember Phillips, 5.
The family went missing on September 11 in a remote area of Marokopa, on New Zealand’s North Island.
The search began on September 12, when Mr Philips’ car was discovered below the tideline at nearby Kiritehere Beach.
On September 28, Mr Phillips and his children appeared at his parents’ family home in Marokopa.
Though he is yet to speak publicly about the disappearance, his family say he had taken the children camping in dense bush.
He apologised to his sister for putting the family through the lengthy ordeal.
Inspector Will Loughrin, Waikato West Area Commander, said the disappearance of Mr Phillips and his children put the rest of their family through “17 days of hell”.
Police said it was unclear how the group survived for so long in the rough conditions of the bush.
“They were using a tent. They were in dense bush area.”
Inspector Loughrin said the group had set up a tent in an area about 15km away from where Mr Phillips’ ute was found.
When he announced their return, Inspector Loughrin also said it was unknown how they got around the remote, forested areas, or whether they had any help.
The search effort saw police deploy a fixed-wing plane and drones to search the area, with the assistance of the Coastguard and Raglan and Taranaki surf lifesaving teams.
Mayor John Robertson said the family’s sudden reappearance was “unreal” when interviewed at the time.
“After three weeks, all the sorts of emotions you go through of all those initial days of hope. We knew he was a good bushman … most thought he’d gone to the bush,” Mr Robertson said.
“And then, you know, the search changed over the days. And now - wow. Most of us thought we would never see (this).”
Mr Robertson said it would be difficult to find someone in the area where Mr Phillips’ car was discovered.
“You really have to know it, but I guess he’s a bushman and he would know the area well,” Mr Robertson said.
“I guess he could live in a tent, though I don’t know the details of how long he was in the bush or where he was.
“That’s another mystery to this. Three weeks is a lot of time for kids to be with him and survive all that.”
Police said they would provide no further comments as the matter was before the courts.
Images: Waikato Police / Facebook