10 Dec 2019

Whakaari / White Island eruption: 'I'd rather it was me than him out there' - Missing man Tipene Maangi's friend

2:04 pm on 10 December 2019

One of the people missing on Whakaari / White Island is believed to be a 23-year-old who started working as a tour guide on the island just months ago.

Tipene Maangi with Shaniah Semmens in 2011.

Tipene Maangi with Shaniah Semmens in 2011. Photo: Supplied to RNZ

The whānau and friends of Tipene Maangi gathered in Whakatāne this afternoon, anxiously awaiting any news on his whereabouts.

They described him as a loving young man, who always puts others before himself.

Tipene Maangi's father cried as he stood at the cordon and stared at Whakaari - a line of police tape and roughly 50 kilometres of ocean keeping him from his son.

Tipene Maangi's father staring at White Island from the cordon.

Tipene Maangi's father staring at White Island from the cordon. Photo: Supplied to RNZ

Tipene Maangi is one of eight people missing on the island after the major eruption yesterday.

Flights over the volcano have not found any sign of life and it is still too dangerous for the police to launch a rescue mission.

Despite the messages from emergency services, his whānau are still hopeful Tipene has survived.

They've been anxiously waiting at the local marae today for any updates.

His close friend, Shaniah Semmens, 20, said he started working for White Island Tours recently after they both applied for the same job.

"He suits this job, honestly, and I was mad at him because I applied for it too and I messaged him and was like you were supposed to leave that job for me."

Tipene would speak to tourists about Māori culture and would take them onto the island, she said.

He would have put others first and make sure they were safe before helping himself, she said.

The pair met in primary school and have known each other for 12 years. Semmens said he moved to Whakatāne a few years ago and lived there with his nan, who he worshipped.

She found out he was missing early this morning after he failed to respond to a Facebook message she sent to him last night.

"At 6am this morning, I was up and checked my messenger and my mum had told me that nobody had heard from him yet. So I'm still waiting."

Semmens cried for hours when she heard.

She said it was hard, everyone is just being hopeful.

"All I could think this morning was I'd rather it was me than him out there.

"Just knowing that there's a high chance that he's laying out there, its gut-wrenching. It makes me feel sick."

She described Tipene as an old soul and real character who often told dumb jokes.

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