Man drowned after bridge crash

Last updated 05:00 04/03/2014

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An eminent Australian-based Maori professor crashed off a West Coast bridge and drowned on his way to explore his theory on New Zealand's first Maori settlement, a coroner has found.

Christchurch coroner Richard McElrea said in his findings released yesterday that Charles Edward Miller Pearce, 72, fell asleep at the wheel or suffered a medical event and lost control of his car.

He crashed off a single-lane bridge into the Manakaiaua River, about 20 kilometres south of Fox Glacier, on State Highway 6, on June 8, 2012.

Pearce, who left New Zealand 50 years ago had flown to Christchurch from Australia that afternoon. He then flew on to Hokitika, arriving at 6.20pm, where he picked up his rental car and headed south towards Haast.

Just after midnight on June 9, 2012, a passing motorist spotted Pearce's upturned car in the shallow river and found him dead inside.

Only his head was immersed in water.

McElrea said Pearce's wife, Frances, had said she and Pearce, who was the University of Adelaide's Thomas Elder chair of mathematics, had recently co-authored a book on Pacific pre-history.

The book, Oceanic Migration: Past, Sequence, Timing and Range of prehistoric migration in the Pacific and Indian oceans, presented evidence of very early settlement of New Zealand on the West Coast.

Underwater archaeologists had invited Pearce to New Zealand to talk about his theory.

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- The Press

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