Beckenridge’s car ‘like a tin can that had been squashed’ when found at bottom of ocean


2023-05-26 14:55:28

First published on Stuff

A police team at a remote cove in Southland have used a helicopter to lift a vehicle linked to a missing 11-year-old out of the sea.

A police team at a remote cove in Southland using a helicopter to lift a vehicle out of the sea in the search for the Beckenridges.
Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

John Beckenridge’s blue VW Toureg was “like a tin can that had been squashed down” when discovered by police divers along the rugged Catlins Coast.

It was found on its roof, 4.3m below the surface and wedged between two boulders. It was missing the bonnet, all doors, windows and some plastic panelling, Senior Sergeant Bruce Adams told a coroner’s hearing in Beckenridge’s disappearance, along with his stepson, Mike Zhao-Beckenridge, 11.

Beckenridge, 64, took Mike from his Invercargill school about lunchtime on 13 March 2015.

They were seen multiple times around the Catlins area between 15 and 18 March.

On the afternoon of 20 March, the pair sent a series of “concerning” text messages to friends, and to Mike’s mother. This was the last evidence to suggest the pair were alive.

Two days later, car parts and clothing belonging to both started to wash ashore along nearby coastline.

Adams and fellow divers were unable to find the vehicle due to “very trying conditions”.

It took a week for the sea to settle enough to allow the team to dive on the vehicle.

“We were obviously hoping that the search teams would find them wandering alive somewhere else. But with finding the vehicle like that we were hoping [for] the next best outcome, that they were secured inside the car – and that wasn’t the case,” Adams said.

The car that was recovered from Blue Cod Bay, near Curio Bay.

The car that was recovered from Blue Cod Bay, near Curio Bay.
Photo: Supplied

He said the white water, massive waves and marine life would have only accelerated the bodies’ decomposition.

Deirdre Elsmore, counsel for the police, asked what sort of deterioration would be expected after nine days in the water.

“Parts of the body have been consumed, parts have been lost or broken off, and lost or moved away. Very soft tissue has gone. You’re starting to end up with skeletal remains,” Adams said, apologising to the family for his graphic description.

The bay acted like a washing machine, Adams said, with kelp, silt and white water leading to extremely low visibility.

“It simply wasn’t safe for us to do what we would normally call an expended search in that bay area itself, someone was going to get hurt.”

It was more than five weeks later when a break in the weather finally allowed them to hoist the car from the water.

Detective Sergeant Christopher Lucy, who examined the vehicle, said the interior of the car, especially the seats, were “completely squashed”.

Lucy said there was no sign of any forensic evidence – such as DNA, blood staining or body parts – nor were there any signs of damage that could have been caused by bodies when the vehicle went off a cliff, largely due to how much of the car was not recovered.

“It would be impossible to tell whether the damage to these seats had been caused by a weight inside the car at the time of impact or from being smashed about on the rocks,” he said.

The hearing continues.

This story was first published by Stuff.

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