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Missing Mila found safe

Sophie Phipps said the playground and lake at Queen Elizabeth Park should be fully fenced. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

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It only takes moments.

One second your child is playing in front of you. The next, they have disappeared.

You only looked away for a moment.

For one couple, a beautiful Saturday at a Masterton park turned into a terrifying ordeal when their two-year-old vanished.

A massive community and police effort had the precocious toddler returned to her parents safe and well within half an hour, but mother Sophie Phipps described it as the worst day of her life.

She said Queen Elizabeth Park was a vast area, and the Kid’s Own Playground, next to a busy road and waterways, needed additional fencing and gates to keep little ones safe.

At 12.45pm police were alerted to a ‘missing person’ at the park and responded with officers on the ground.

Mila before she went missing on Saturday.

Phipps partner, Errol Smith, had called them to help search for his daughter Mila who had suddenly disappeared from the playground. He was told to look in the nearby Lake of Remembrance.

“We were both walking around the lake looking in the water. It was horrible.”

Phipps said she knew that the park’s size meant she and Smith desperately needed help.

She called her parents in Carterton while Smith stopped nearby families, all of whom joined in the search once learning the toddler was missing.

A post on the Masterton Community Group Facebook page said the look on Smith’s face as he was searched for Mila “was heartbreaking”.

Phipps said it was amazing to see the police and the community come through so quickly, and Mila was eventually found at a nearby cafe.

She was in the company of three women who learned her name and that she “can’t find mummy”.

Phipps said they looked after Mila until she and Smith were located.

Mila was not one for disappearing-acts and was not usually a runner, said Phipps.

“It was really out of character for her to run off and that far away from the park.”

She said the park’s lake was a hazard and that it should be fenced.

“It is so dangerous leaving it open like that.”

Phipps said the playground, which has some gaps in the fencing, should be fully enclosed.

“It is just such a large area, and it makes it absolutely terrifying when your little one goes missing.”

Masterton District Council manager community facilities and activities Corin Haines said he sympathised with the parents “who must have gone through a terrible half-hour”.

He said the playground was subject to regular safety audits, and there was an area of the playground for the youngest children that was fully fenced and gated.

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