Lifejacket taken off just before death

LOUISE BERWICK
Last updated 05:00 23/12/2013
Blake Sinclair
Supplied
BELOVED: Blake Sinclair.

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An 18-year-old who drowned in the Clutha River earlier this year was not wearing a lifejacket, but had worn one earlier in the day and been reminded by his mother to put it back on just minutes before his death.

Blake Sinclair died on January 12 after falling from a kneeboard towed behind his father's boat at the confluence of the Clutha and Waitahuna rivers.

Otago-Southland coroner David Crerar said in his written findings, released on Friday, that Blake had "face planted" while kneeboarding and never resurfaced.

He was not wearing a lifejacket.

The family had launched their boat onto the Waitahuna River, which was described as calm, and Blake and his brother Logan had taken turns driving the boat before taking off their lifejackets and putting on their wetsuits to go kneeboarding.

It was unusual for the brothers not to wear lifejackets, Mr Crerar said in the findings.

"Blake Sinclair got into the water and was reminded by Raewyn Sinclair to put on his lifejacket."

As soon as they reached the Clutha River, Blake crossed the wake of the boat.

"Although Mark Sinclair was driving the boat, he saw that Blake Sinclair was grinning and laughing and that he was in good control."

But Blake became airborne, lost control, let go of the rope and did a heavy "face plant" into the water. His father dived into the water, but could not find his son and was left waiting for emergency services and a rescue helicopter to arrive.

Blake did not appear immediately and his body was found a week later.

"The only observation which can be made, and this is echoed by Mark Sinclair and Raewyn Sinclair, is the failure by Blake Sinclair (on this one occasion) not to wear a lifejacket," Mr Crerar said in his findings.

"If he had of been wearing a lifejacket, it is probable that he would have immediately been found and recovered as soon as he fell from the kneeboard."

Mr Crerar said there could be only speculation about how Blake died and it was probable that he struck the water with such force that the impact caused a temporary loss of consciousness and because the swift-flowing river and temperature, it was likely he was swept down the river until his body became lodged in branches.

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