Body pulled from river
Wanaka searchers yesterday pulled the submerged body of a man from a rugged river delta near the top of Lake Wanaka after a jet boating mishap on Sunday night.
A party of three, including deceased 65-year-old Wanaka man Murray Austin Rivers, were trying to negotiate the Wilkin and Makarora rivers in a 4.8-metre aluminium hulled jet boat on Sunday evening, when the boat suffered engine failure.
The boat was being pushed and paddled by the occupants, who were trying to get it to a boat ramp at Wharf Creek on the Makarora River.
Wanaka police search and rescue co-ordinator Sergeant Aaron Nicholson said the boat flipped after hitting a gravel bar in rapids.
"While the jet boat was moving through a section of fast water . . . it hit a small gravel bar which threw two of the occupants off the boat and into the water," he said.
"By the time [the occupants thrown from the boat] got to the river bank the boat and remaining occupant . . . could not be seen."
The remaining jet boaters then walked through farmland to the Makarora village to raise the alarm.
A search by Land Search and Rescue teams, joined by the Hawea Marine Group, Wanaka Coastguard and a helicopter equipped with night vision quickly located the flipped boat but they were unable to find Mr Rivers, despite searching until 3am.
A search team deployed at 9am yesterday found the submerged body of Mr Rivers snagged in the branches of a sunken willow tree about 150m from where the jet boat flipped. The body was recovered mid-morning and next of kin were informed by police. The death has been referred to the coroner for a full investigation.
It appeared no lifejackets were worn by the occupants of the jet boat, Mr Nicholson said.
Queenstown Lakes District harbourmaster Marty Black said although the situation was very tragic, he was obliged to be blunt.
"Putting it bluntly, it's bloody stupid to try and drift a boat down a river that's up and running swift with fresh snow melt.
"If you're on a boat, in a boat or around waterways, you have to wear a lifejacket."
With summer coming and increased use of the region's lakes and rivers a certainty, the tragedy was a timely reminder, Mr Black said.
"It's a disastrous start to the summer and people need to realise we'll be going hard this season - taking a very hard line against people not wearing lifejackets and reminding them if you don't wear one this is definitely what can happen."
Mr Rivers was the owner of Wanaka-based boutique fencing company Alpine Fencing.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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