A man has been charged with “causing wasteful deployment of police personnel and resources” after a search and rescue operation for a missing family in Marokopa, New Zealand. Thomas Phillips, 34, sparked a panic when he vanished off Kiritehere Beach on Sept. 11 with his three kids, aged 8, 6, and 5. He left his vehicle parked on the beach below the tideline, facing out to sea with the keys under the driver’s mat, worrying authorities. They launched a wide-ranging, multi-day search operation, with officers and local volunteers utilizing heat-detecting drones, a helicopter, and a fixed-wing plane to look for the family.
The search had been called off when the four reappeared on Sept. 28. They “just walked in the door,” according to Phillips’ sister. Phillips is “an experienced bushman,” according to an official giving a statement two days later, who by disappearing put his family through “17 days of hell.” The father has yet to address the incident publicly, but family members have said he took the children camping. It is still unclear how the family navigated the remote forest, how they survived for more than two weeks in the wilderness, or why exactly they went to ground. Phillips will appear in court on Nov. 5.