Respected Wanaka resident Kenneth George Copland drowned
last year while fly-fishing at the Makarora River delta
probably after losing his footing and being swept into Lake
Wanaka, a coroner has heard.
Designated coroner Richard McElrea, of Christchurch, did not
issue any formal findings after the inquest into the
63-year-old's death, but friends and fellow fishers familiar
with the area believed that was the most likely scenario.
Mr Copland's wife of 43 years, Frances, told police her
husband was involved in many aspects of the community,
including the Wanaka Community Board, but his greatest
passions were hunting and fishing.
''He was a fly-fisherman and would go out once a week,
While her husband couldn't swim, he was comfortable in the
water and was not a ''risk taker''.
Mrs Copland said her husband left home, with their dog Bella,
between 8.30am and 9.30am on August 4 for a day's fishing at
his ''favourite spot'' - the head of Lake Wanaka near the
Makarora River mouth.
He had asked friends to go with him, but none were available.
''He left home ... and called out `See you later'.
''He was always home between 5pm and 5.30pm and would call if
he was going to be late.''
By 6pm she became worried and after failing to contact her
husband on his cellphone and then contacting friends, she
called the police.
Senior Constable Mike Johnston, of Wanaka, said the police
were notified at 8.30pm and a search and rescue operation was
Mr Copland's car was found on State Highway 6, north of Wharf
Creek, but a shoreline and aerial search using night-vision
equipment failed to find him.
The search resumed at 8.30am on August 5. Mr Copland's dog
and some fishing equipment were found on a river braid near
the river mouth at 8.35am and police located footprints
leading from his equipment out into the water, but none
Snr Const Johnston said there was a ''steep drop-off'' from a
gravel shelf into the river, which had a ''strong current''.
The search area was extended and Mr Copland's body was found
at 5pm, about 4.5km from the river mouth, floating on the
eastern shore near Boundary Creek.
While he was not wearing a life jacket, that was not unusual
because fly-fishers found them restrictive.
Mr Copland was wearing neoprene waders, fastened below the
chest with a belt.
While the waders would have provided buoyancy, if Mr Copland
had lost his footing and had not been able to regain it,
''very quickly he would have been taken out into the lake'',
Snr Const Johnston said.
He believed it likely Mr Copland had drowned soon after being
swept into the lake.
''There is no evidence of him returning to his bag [on the
river braid] - once he was in the water, he stayed there.''
Friend and fellow fisherman John Barlow, of Wanaka, said one
of the major hazards of fishing at a river delta was
''You get a situation where you have a gravel crust and below
it you have sand, which is saturated with water.
''You can easily break through that crust and you'll often
plunge up as far as your knees.
''The area where Ken died is pretty bad.''
Gordon Brander, of Wanaka, said the spot where his friend was
fishing was about 6m away from ''what is really like being on
top of a waterfall''.
He described the area as a ''vortex'' of water where fish
Mrs Copland thanked the police and search and rescue
personnel for their efforts and hoped lessons could be
learned to prevent similar deaths.