Fishermen don lifejackets in mate's memory

02:47, Apr 04 2014
Ken Copland
LOCAL HERO: Ken Copland will be remembered by family and friends in Monday's service.

A "great mate" who drowned when a solo trip went wrong near Wanaka was an experienced and safety conscious fisherman, an inquest heard yesterday.

Ken Copland's body was found in Lake Wanaka near Boundary Creek about 5pm on August 5 last year.

The 63-year-old, well-known and a member of the Wanaka community board, had gone fly fishing with his dog Bella on the delta at the mouth of the Makarora River and failed to return home the previous afternoon.

Family, including wife Frances, friends and fishing mates John Barlow and Gordon Brander were in court for the inquest before coroner Richard McElrea, who reserved his written findings.

Copland's friends and fishing mates told the court they now wore gas- operated lifejackets while fly fishing.

Frances Copland thanked police, the search and rescue teams and the coroner.


"I know we are only presuming because no-one was there but if it does save somebody else's life. Because I would not want anybody to lose a loved one and be without a member of their family."

The court heard evidence about the use of personal locator beacons, neoprene waders, gas- operated lifejackets and the river and lake conditions.

It was not possible to definitively establish why Copland went into the lake at the river mouth, an area with deep water and a strong current. Footprints led to a spot where a fly fisherman was able to cast towards an area of the mouth. His rod was not recovered.

Search and rescue co-ordinator Senior Constable Mike Johnston, of Wanaka, told the court Copland was wearing chest-high waders and these probably forced him to lie horizontally in the water.

"Where the footprints were, they led out to the edge of the main flow, there's considerable flow if he has lost his footing . . . very quickly he would have been taken out into the lake based on flow and depth."

Barlow told the court about the dynamic river conditions and the danger of liquefaction, when a gravel crust could form beneath the surface that sometimes gave way when levels and flow changed.

"I was fortunate to have him as a great friend and we fished together a lot. We all have them [lifejackets] now. Unfortunately. The major hazard in a river delta like Makarora is liquefaction. The area where he drowned is a bad place for it."

Brander said he accompanied his friend on a previous trip to the same area of the delta. "He was a great friend and fishing mate. He would have been about six metres back from what is really like being on top of a waterfall where the river goes over the dropoff so if he lost his footing he would have been in deep water very quickly."

The river flow was quite fast and high in August and he and others had anguished over whether a rescue would have been possible if Copland was not alone.

A lifejacket would have made a rescue more likely, Brander said.

"I am a life-saving instructor, I could have gone in after him and, who knows, you could have had a double tragedy."

Johnston said swift-water rescuers donned similar waders in a swimming pool and established it was impossible to sink if the belt was secure.

Copland was not carrying a personal locator beacon, or a cellphone because the area has no network coverage and he was not wearing a lifejacket. He was not a competent swimmer but was a strong wader and familiar with river conditions.

Police deployed a tracking team, a helicopter search crew with night vision equipment and a boat with sonar gear.

The coroner said written findings were expected within a month.


The Southland Times