The trio tumbled into the water near the North Island town of New Plymouth yesterday while on a 13-member school expedition climbing a rugged headland and have not been seen since, despite an extensive search effort.
Police said they had been in the water for more than 24 hours and rescuers were now concentrating on finding their bodies, rather than looking for survivors.
“It is unlikely they will now be found alive,” inspector Frank Grant said.
“Our thoughts are with the families of the missing as they come to terms with what has occurred.”
They were identified as Joao Felipe Martins De Melo, 17, from Brazil and New Zealanders Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye, 17, and Bryce Jourdain, 42.
Jourdain, a climbing instructor with the group from New Plymouth’s Spotswood College, had leapt into the water to try to save the students.
Another student – reportedly from Germany – also fell into the sea but was rescued.