Kayaker's body may never be recovered

JOHN EDENS IN QUEENSTOWN
Last updated 05:00 01/02/2013

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An inquest for a German kayaker has concluded his body may never be found and an inquiry into the possibility of a staged disappearance indicated nothing suspicious.

Rene Weisswange, a 25-year-old chef, was never seen again after he went kayaking on Lake Hawea on August 29, 2011.

Otago Southland coroner David Crerar's findings reiterated comments at the inquest in Alexandra last year.

The backpacker had borrowed a kayak, a paddle and taken a fishing rod to the lake after discussing fishing at Timaru Creek. He was spotted along the eastern side about 100 metres from the shore and when he was further out appeared to be kneeling or standing.

A witness said he watched the kayaker, between 300m and 400m from the shore, and considered the man was inexperienced, using the paddle incorrectly.

When the alarm was raised, a comprehensive search and rescue operation was launched, covering 25 square kilometres, with lake and aerial searches by helicopter.

It was likely Mr Weisswange fell out of the kayak and drowned, his body sinking to the lake-bed floor.

Police interviewed friends, who were consistent in saying they did not consider he had staged a disappearance or taken his life. He sent a text message to a friend on August 29: "I'm just on Lake Hawea with my kayak and will try to catch the big trouts now."

Wanaka police inquired into the possibility Mr Weisswange's disappearance was deliberate. But bank records and a forensic search of his laptop showed no suspicious activity and inquiries of German authorities, Swiss counterparts and his family also indicated nothing suspicious.

Mr Crerar said the journey of 9 kilometres to Timaru Creek was strenuous and it must be assumed the kayak capsized on the return because the lake was choppier and northwest winds were blowing.

It was difficult for any swimmer to survive any great length of time, he was not wearing a lifejacket and the kayak was unsuitable for open water.

Mr Weisswange ought to have told someone of his intentions and return time because it was more than 24 hours before the alarm was raised, the coroner said. Had he done so, a search could have been launched earlier. If he had worn a lifejacket, he may have been able to reach the shore.

Mr Crerar said it was likely his body sank to the floor and may never be recovered.

He urged Maritime NZ to take further action to ensure people in small boats wear lifejackets and the Government should investigate making the wearing of lifejackets in small boats compulsory.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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