y KRISTIN EDGE
A missing Bay man is now thought to have survived a dramatic crash in which his van plunged 250m off the Kaimai Range summit into dense bush.
The last confirmed sighting of Te Paewhenua (Bobby) Roberts, 53, was at 8.30am on Tuesday when his Fulton Hogan work van careered into the lookout carpark, smashed through a stone barrier and crashed down a cliff.
Teams of searchers moved into the area within hours of the crash and have since scoured the steep native bush clad area.
Yesterday a Fulton Hogan Swanndri coat and a hat were found near a stream about 300m from where the van came to rest.
Sergeant Graham McGurk, of Matamata police, said the items were positively identified as belonging to Mr Roberts - and were vital clues that indicated he was still in the area.
"We are now certain he is still in the area and we are putting a team back in there," Mr McGurk said as a briefing for search teams began today.
Searchers had previously been over the area where the coat and hat were found.
This came after an orange vest was discovered on Wednesday, about 150m from the crash scene but searchers are unsure whether this belonged to the missing man.
Today Mr Roberts' whanau again joined a 40-strong search team with volunteers from Tauranga, Hamilton, Thames, Waitomo, Paeroa and Whitianga.
Searchers with abseiling gear were to head into the ranges today to search for Mr Roberts, who may be wandering around injured and disoriented.
Other relatives have converged on Ukaipo marae at the base of the Kaimai Range, waiting anxiously for news. Their hopes were raised temporarily yesterday when a motorist told police he saw a man fitting Mr Roberts' description about 10.30am on Tuesday - two hours after the crash.
The man was limping along State Highway 29 near the Ruahine dam, said Senior Sergeant Ross Ardern, of Matamata-Piako police.
Tauranga search and rescue member and incident controller Bruce Sandford said Mr Roberts had bush experience as a hunter.