A German visitor who disappeared while kayaking on Lake
Hawea 17 months ago did not take appropriate precautions for
the potentially hazardous fishing trip he was undertaking, a
coroner has ruled.
Following an inquest in the Alexandra coroner's court on
October 25, Otago-Southland Coroner David Crerar has released
his formal findings into the death of Rene Weisswange (25),
who was employed as a chef at the Lake Hawea Hotel when he
vanished on the lake on August 29, 2011.
It was believed Mr Weisswange planned to kayak about 9km
across to Timaru Creek from a boat ramp near the Lake Hawea
dam, where he launched about 10.30am that day. He was not
wearing a life jacket and his borrowed kayak was considered
unsuitable for the ''strenuous'' open-water paddling trip.
The last text message Mr Weisswange sent was to a friend at
12.25pm, stating he was ''on Lake Hawea with my kayak and
will try to catch the big trouts [sic] now''.
Confirmed sightings of a kayaker on the lake included one at
1.30pm - about 600m off the western shore, heading towards
Timaru Creek, and at 4.15pm - the flashes of sun reflecting
off wet paddles - were seen about 3km from the southern
When Mr Weisswange did not show up for his shift at the hotel
the following day, an extensive search was initiated, which
continued for several days. His kayak was found washed up but
his body has not been found.
The kayak was presumed to have capsized on the return journey
when northwest winds were causing increasing wave action on
the lake, causing Mr Weisswange to fall into the water, Mr
''Although his swimming ability was unknown ... the water
temperature of Lake Hawea in August would be cold and the
choppy action of the water surface would have made it
difficult for any swimmer to survive for any great length of
However, had Mr Weisswange been wearing a life jacket, he
might have been able to reach the shore after the kayak
''It turned out to be more than 24 hours before the alarm was
raised ... if Rene Weisswange had told appropriate friends, a
search and rescue operation may have been able to be
undertaken earlier with the possibility of a successful
rescue,'' the coroner said.
Wanaka police search and rescue co-ordinator Senior Constable
Mike Johnston consulted pathologist Dr Martin Sage and
Queenstown Lakes District Council harbourmaster Marty Black,
and established that if Mr Weisswange had fallen from the
kayak and drowned, his body was likely to have sunk below 60m
to the lake floor.
Because of the cold temperatures there, it would be unlikely
to surface. Mr Crerar had heard no evidence Mr Weisswange's
disappearance was deliberate and ''this action must be
determined as a most remote possibility''.
He recommended a copy of his finding be forwarded to Maritime
New Zealand and to the Minister for Transport.
''The Government should take action to ensure that the
wearing of life jackets by all persons using small boats in
New Zealand be made compulsory and that there ought to be
compulsory policing and enforcement of the appropriate