Discovery of submerged vehicle could end seven-year search for Leo Lipp-Neighbours

A police dive team investigates the scene where a car has been found in the wharf at Port Nelson.
BRADEN FASTIER

A police dive team investigates the scene where a car has been found in the wharf at Port Nelson.

A submerged car found at a Nelson wharf is suspected to belong to missing student Leo Lipp-Neighbours, who vanished seven years ago.

The 19-year-old Canterbury University student was last seen leaving a friend's Nelson flat at 4am on January 24, 2010. He told friends he was going to be 'at one with nature'.

Despite countless searches by police, family and friends, no trace had been found of him or his distinctive orange Toyota Corolla wagon since.

Leo Lipp-Neighbours was missing for seven years.
SUPPLIED

Leo Lipp-Neighbours was missing for seven years.

Police had never ruled out foul play in Lipp-Neighbours' disappearance, and in 2014 they raided properties in Blenheim looking for items which belonged to him, including engine parts from his Toyota. 

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At the time, police said there was reason to believe those items could lead to charges of murder, manslaughter or grievous bodily harm.

Police launched a recovery operation at Wakefield Quay in Nelson after a vehicle was discovered submerged in the water ...
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ

Police launched a recovery operation at Wakefield Quay in Nelson after a vehicle was discovered submerged in the water on Monday.

On Monday night, the national police dive squad attached lines to a similarly-shaped car found submerged earlier in the day at a Port Nelson berth used by super yachts.

It is believed the anchor chain of a vessel at the Wakefield Quay berth dropped close to the vehicle, leading to the discovery.

Nelson Bays area commander Mat Arnold-Kelly said it had been there for some time but it was too early to say what type of vehicle it was.

Leo Lipp-Neighbours' distinctive Toyota Corolla station wagon.
NELSON POLICE/SUPPLIED

Leo Lipp-Neighbours' distinctive Toyota Corolla station wagon.

"We are just covering off all bases. With the location, with the vehicle, it is a possibility."

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Commercial divers had been down but it was murky and the car looked "like a barnacle". 

Arnold-Kelly said the police dive squad has inspected the vehicle this morning. 

Nelson Bays Area Commander Matt Arnold Kelly said while it was still to early to tell if the vehicle was that of ...
BRADEN FASTIER

Nelson Bays Area Commander Matt Arnold Kelly said while it was still to early to tell if the vehicle was that of Leo-Lipp Neighbours, "with the location, with the vehicle, it is a possibility."

He said the vehicle was upside down and needed to be vacuumed of sediment that has built up over the years before police attempted to pull it out of the water.

"Because the vehicle's been in there for some time there's a lot of sediment and stuff on the inside of the vehicle," he said.

"We want to keep it as intact as we can and if we try and pull it up without vacuuming it out then it could tear it apart."

He said he couldn't confirm any details about the vehicle as it had been in the water for "quite some time".

When asked why there was such a heavy police presence, including senior detectives, at the scene of a submerged vehicle, Arnold-Kelly said:

"We can't confirm or deny the vehicle is related to any missing people but there is some speculation around the vehicle so we just want to cover our bases.

"It may just simply be a vehicle that's been dumped off the wharf. But anything like this where we don't know the answers we have a responsibility to take a duty of care."

Police had been in touch with Leo's family to let them know what was going on but that did not necessarily mean that it was Leo's car, Arnold-Kelly said.

He said a police dive squad would go down today "hopefully" with the aim to remove the vehicle.

However, it was a dangerous operating environment with commercial vessels operating nearby.

"We will go and have a look first."

He said often such things were found by accident and, due to tidal movements, just because the car was found at Wakefield Quay did not mean it had always been there.  

Among the emergency services and dive squad team members assembled along the wharf on Monday morning was Nelson man Ben Clark. 

Clark was the last person to see Leo alive before he drove off from Clark's Washington Rd flat. He said he had to come down to see for himself.

He had seen the news story posted about police finding a car and had spoken to other friends.

"We are pretty sure," he said. "It feels like it could be some closure. It answers some questions but raises a lot of other ones."

He arrived on his bicycle to Wakefield Quay before heading into work but there was no sign from police as to when the car might be hauled out of the harbour.

Once the vehicle has been recovered, police are expected to issue a statement confirming whether the suspected links to Leo-Lipp Neighbours are correct, which would bring an end to the seven-year mystery.

TIMELINE

January 24, 2010: Nelson student Leo Lipp-Neighbours, 19, who had been out with friends at a Nelson club, is last seen in his distinctive orange Toyota Corolla station wagon at 4am driving away from a Washington Valley flat. A missing person investigation is launched by police.

January 28: Police follow up on a reported sighting of Lipp-Neighbours, but still hold grave fears for his safety, saying his disappearance was out of character and they have concerns about his state of mind at the time he left his flat.

January 30: Mr Lipp-Neighbours' family hire a helicopter to search for him, and scour roads for any sign of his car. They are worried he may have lost control while driving on a remote road.

February 1: Mother Charlotte Lipp issues a tearful plea for information on her son's whereabouts. More than 30 friends and helpers search Queen Charlotte Sound, Golden Bay and St Arnaud, Murchison and Lewis Pass. By this time three helicopter searches have also been made.

February 13: Friends describe Lipp-Neighbours as being in a "dark" mood on the night he went missing.

February 17: The Wakapuaka sewage ponds are searched for any trace of Mr Lipp-Neighbours or his car.

February 24: Police move their search focus to the Marlborough Sounds, in and around Port Underwood.

March 20: Search and Rescue volunteers search the Whangamoa area.

June 12: Lipp-Neighbours' friends reveal his last words before he disappeared were: "I'm going to be at one with nature."

January 22, 2011: A year on from the disappearance, the case suffers from a complete lack of leads. Police appeal to the public to come forward with more leads.

June 29: A $10,000 reward for information on Lipp-Neighbours increases to $50,000.

January 21, 2012: On the second anniversary of his disappearance, Lipp-Neighbours' parents again call on the public for information, saying their intuition leads them to believe he died shortly after he went missing, but that they remain hopeful.

January 24, 2013: On the third anniversary, police say they have not ruled out foul play in Lipp-Neighbours' disappearance, with a detective saying he believed there were people in the community who knew more than they were saying.

September 6, 2013: Police announce they believe someone had "committed a serious crime" against Lipp-Neighbours.

January, 2014: Police raid properties in Blenheim in an unsuccessful search for property belonging to Lipp-Neighbours.

 

 

 

 

 - Stuff

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