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Missing tennis coach 'seen in river'

Search continues for Paul Arber after witnesses report seeing a man behaving oddly in New Zealand's Waikato River in the early hours of Sunday.

PT0M54S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2z34f 620 349

The parents of missing Melbourne tennis coach Paul Arber believe their son is alive but in "an irrational and psychotic state".

As the search for Mr Arber continued into the fourth day, Melbourne couple, Sam and Richelle Arber, spoke at a press conference on Thursday in Hamilton, New Zealand, of their worry about their ‘‘loving and caring’’ son, who has been missing since early Sunday morning.

Mr Arber was in Hamilton for a tennis tournament with a group of Australian junior tennis players.

Detectove Insector Karl Thorton (left) with Richelle and Sam Arber, parents of missing tennis coach, Paul Arber, at a press conference in Hamilton on Wednesday.

Detectove Inspector Karl Thorton (left) with Richelle and Sam Arber, parents of missing tennis coach, Paul Arber, at a press conference in Hamilton on Wednesday. Photo: Bruce Mercer

The Arbers said their son had fixated on being close to nature, animals and people in the weeks just before he came out to New Zealand and that he had been displaying out of character behaviour recently.

He was also encouraging his parents to follow his newfound love for these things.  It was something that struck his father as odd.

"I was a bit concerned because he seemed a bit too passionate about it,’’ Sam Arber said. "It did disturb me slightly but I thought: ‘he’s going to New Zealand, I’ll talk to him when he’s back.’"

Witnesses say they saw a man believed to be Paul Arber wandering in and out of the Waikato River at Victoria Bridge in the North Island city of Hamilton.

His family - who flew to New Zealand over the weekend to assist with the search - have described the 38-year-old as vulnerable.

It is understood Mr Arber recently went through a traumatic separation from his partner.

In an earlier Facebook post Richelle Arber said family and friends are "distraught with worry... [but] we feel that he is still alive but in an irrational, psychotic state".

Mr Arber was in Hamilton coaching eight young tennis players who competed in the Waikato Christmas Junior Tournament.

He was part of a wider group of about 50 Australian coaches and players.

According to friends and colleagues who he was travelling with, after a busy day of tennis on Saturday, he and the group drove to get dinner at the various food outlets near Steel Park, Hamilton, at about 8.30pm.

They agreed to meet back at their minibuses at 9.30pm. Everybody was there on time, but Mr Arber never returned.

Richelle Arber said their son had spoken with them about leading positive lives in recent days.

"Paul was positive and he wanted us to be positive so through all of this we are remaining positive."

Long-time friend Nathan Hude - one of the last people to see Mr Arber before he disappeared - also shed light on Mr Arber’s state of mind on Saturday evening.

He wrote on the "Find Paul Arber" Facebook group page that Mr Arber approached a family in their driveway after 9pm and spoke to them, "offering fruit" and "spirituality".

"Later at around 10pm he spoke to some more people further down [the] street and turning right, near Galloway Park with similar story," Mr Hude wrote. "[He] was seen carrying what were thought to be grocery bags, containing at least the fruit he was offering people."

Friend and Kanga Tennis Tours international director Mark Sheppard said the latest sighting gave friends and family hope that Mr Arber would be found.

"We don’t feel a sense of relief, but we just feel a much greater sense of hope that he’ll be OK," he said.

"From the moment he left we’ve been making our own private searches and haven’t stopped. We’ve been relentless, but since hearing the news that he was by the river [friend] Nathan Hude and I thought we’d come down and check it out."

Waikato Detective Inspector Karl Thornton said friends and family noticed Mr Arber had been "somewhat distant", overly spiritual and not his usual self of late.

There are reports Mr Arber also withdrew money from an ATM and gave a homeless man $20 shortly before he vanished.

Locating where Mr Arber abandoned his clothes is also a crucial piece of the puzzle for investigators, Detective Thornton, said.

"When Paul was seen about 10pm on Saturday he was wearing quite distinctive blue, orange and white Adidas sports shoes and a grey Wilson’s tracksuit," Detective Inspector Thornton said. "But when seen in the Waikato River he was described as only being clad in a pair of black shorts."

Police refocused their search after two people reported seeing someone in the Waikato River under the Victoria St Bridge at 4am on Sunday. They went to the river’s edge and the man told them his name was Paul and that he was in Hamilton for a tennis tournament.

Detective Inspector Thornton said the man walked up the stairs and part way across the bridge with the pair.

"They’ve been trying to get him back to where he was staying and then he has, for some reason unbeknown to them, turned around and walked back down to the river area."

The news of Mr Arber’s disappearance has shocked the Melbourne tennis community, with a close friend telling Fairfax Media the "Find Paul Arber" Facebook page had been set up to share information between family and friends.

"We are all extremely worried about him. It looks like he has just vanished and the amount of work and resource the police in New Zealand are putting into this makes it very, very worrying," the friend said. "He is very well known in the tennis community and very much liked. it is all anyone is talking about at the moment."

Mr Arber runs the coaching facility Trademark Tennis, at the Leon Haskin Tennis Centre, previously the Maccabi Tennis Club, in Bentleigh East.

He previously worked with the Australian Institute of Sport and the National High Performance Academy and his website states he has worked in a coaching capacity with several elite juniors and professionals including Bernard Tomic, Justine Henin, Monica Seles and Caroline Wozniacki.