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Search on for Idaho woman

NUKU΄ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, April 23, 2010) – In Tonga, a search is still underway for the body of an American woman, Gayle Lee (59), who fell off the Hufangalupe cliff on Tongatapu while on a sightseeing tour yesterday afternoon, April 22.

Deputy Police Commander Taniela Faletau confirmed the incident was reported to them 1:03pm yesterday afternoon and a search for her body began yesterday and continued today combining both land and sea search by Tonga Defence Services (TDS) and police personnel. He said TDS had dispatched a boat to search the sea area at Hufangalupe, while police are searching nearby coastal areas of Fua'amotu and Vaini to see whether a body had washed up onshore.

"At this stage we could confirm that the victim fell into the sea but how she fell has not been confirmed as we are still receiving reports," he said.

At the same time an eyewitness said that she slipped off the cliff while she was explaining and pointing out to her team the site in the area of the rock bridge.

Gayle, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, was accompanied by her husband and 24 of her nursing students from the Brigham Young University, Idaho, from the United States to Hufangalupe.

She was a member of the nursing faculty at the university leading the group to Tonga for two weeks on a humanitarian mission that included internships where students were attached to work at various Health Centres throughout Tongatapu.

Despite the tragic loss of their leader, the students, all girls, remained strong as they continued with their work around public health centres in Nuku'alofa.

Sister Mele'ana Ta'ai of Tonga's Ministry Health, the liaison officer for the team, said this was not Gayle's first visit to Tonga. She was in Tonga in 2008 and had on numerous occasions visited Hufangalupe because she liked the site.

The team arrived in Tonga last Saturday, April 17 is scheduled to depart Tonga next week on Friday, April 30.


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