Teen's death 'devastating' loss to community
It should have been a weekend of memories, good times and laughs.
Instead, it ended in tragedy.
Family and friends of Jason Burford are now preparing his funeral, reminiscing about their loved one and struggling to come to terms with his sudden death.
The 19-year-old, born and bred in Winton, died in North Mavora Lake after the boat he was on with mates Stephen Dixon and Kendrick Sutherland sank 600 metres from shore on Sunday afternoon.
Mr Dixon and Mr Sutherland swam to shore, and Mr Sutherland ran for more than an hour along the lake before driving another 20 minutes to raise the alarm.
Mr Burford never made it; rescuers found his body in the water 100m from the submerged boat.
Mr Dixon, 20, said the incident was a blur, he could not remember how the boat sank.
He fought back tears as he described the afternoon.
The weather was good, the lake was beautiful, he said.
"The rest is a blur."
It was cold but Mr Burford had been responding to his shouting while they were in the lake.
But by the time a helicopter flew over, Mr Burford was dead.
His friends were yesterday still coming to terms with the fact he would not be returning from his boys' weekend.
Mr Burford's best friend, Rachel Hebbend, said his parents were on holiday in Australia at the time of the tragedy.
"I can't say enough about him, it's still not real that he's not here, it's just like he's still out on the boat."
But his friends could take comfort in the fact he was doing what he loved, she said.
The former Central Southland College pupil had dreamed of joining the navy, had just completed his mechanics apprenticeship and was a "real Southland boy".
Proud of his mullet, despite having to shave it off for work, it was one of the many things they would miss about him.
"He's the kind of guy who would give the shirt off his back, a couch to sleep on, a hug when you needed it, just amazing.
"We are just lucky two of our friends came back," she said.
Central Southland College principal Grant Dick said Mr Burford's death was a "devastating" loss for the community.
He had been a popular student at the school and had a younger brother in year 10 who looked up to him.
"I know his brother really holds him in high regard."
Police recovered the 15ft motor boat from the lake yesterday.
Sergeant Pete Graham, of Te Anau, said the cause of the incident still needed to be established but the motor of the boat had stopped and the second motor being used was a 25hp.
He would not speculate on whether it was too powerful for the boat but said a mechanical fault had caused the accident.
He praised the trio for wearing life jackets.
"That's a must in a small boat."
Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Matt Claridge said it was always important to carry two forms of communication, including a radio.
The Department of Conservation acting area manager Beth Masser said it had a ranger with a radio based at the North Mavora Lake during the summer months in case of an emergency but not during the quieter, colder months.
The temperature of the lake was unknown but a nearby river had an average temperature of 5.04 degrees Celsius in August, an Environment Southland staff member said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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