Diver missing overnight off Wellington's west coast

Police say they are hopeful the 24-year-old New Plymouth man missing off Wellington's west coast will be found alive.

Rescue teams continued to search throughout Tuesday for the overdue free diver along Wellington's western coast.

The land search was called off for the day about 5pm, but the water search was continuing.

The man was visiting Wellington when he went spear fishing alone off the rugged popular dive spot on Monday afternoon but did not return.

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He is described as a tall man of athletic build, with mid-length blonde hair. He was wearing a black wetsuit with camouflage print on the sleeves and lower half of the suit.

Inspector Neil Banks told a media conference on Tuesday afternoon that conditions were calm when the man went missing, and those conditions had continued.

The search is expected to continue on Wednesday morning if he is not found before dark.

Wellington spearfisher Tom Moody, who joined in the search on Tuesday morning, said the spearfishing community was a "very close-knit group". He had dived with the missing man on several occasions and he always kept within his limits.

It was unlikely the man had done anything silly, and "something must have gone wrong".

Moody said the hardest part of the search was feeling helpless and that there was little he could do.

Banks said the missing man had three to four years of free diving experience and had dived in the area two to three times a week when he was in the region.

The crew of the Wellington police maritime unit's Lady Elizabeth recovered a number of items, a few hundred metres offshore, believed to belong to him, including a blue spear gun, a yellow diver's float, and a yellow catch bag.

Other items believed to belong to the man were found where he is thought to have entered the water.

The diver, who had been expected to return about 4pm on Monday but did not make contact with his family or partner. He had been in the water just off Makara Beach, between Wharehou Bay and Pipinui Point.

His car was found at the beach.

On Tuesday official searchers – the Westpac rescue helicopter, Lady Elizabeth, land searchers, and the police dive squad, were joined by locals in boats, as well as private divers.

"In terms of foot searching it's very challenging, a lot of the bays are difficult to climb down onto. Our land search teams that have been out today have had a jolly hard day's search," Banks said.

Residents gathered to offer support, and a barbecue appeared. The local cafe owner came down with buttered scones and handed them around.

Police said they were continuing to liaise with the family on the progress of the search.

A family member said on Tuesday afternoon that he wanted to thank all the search teams and volunteers who had helped so far.

The missing man was doing what he loved, he said.

Island Bay Divers owner Tim Walshe said it was rocky with cliffs and caves below the water's surface, which was typical to Wellington's underwater topography.

"Anything could have happened. It's a big question mark." 

Walshe said the area was known to have strong currents.

"If he was getting swept away from shore in a rip, or something like that, then it's quite likely the guy started to ditch his gear."

The spot may have been popular with spearfishers because it was hard to access, so "there's more life there".

He said the water temperature in the area would be about 14 to 15 degrees Celsius.

Anyone with information is asked to call Wellington police on 04 381 2000.

 - Stuff