Police reject criticism of search for drowned toddler

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Queenstown police are rejecting criticism surrounding the search for a toddler who drowned in Lake Wakatipu.

Several local boaties have raised concerns with Mountain Scene that they weren’t informed about the hunt for two-year-old Violet Elisabeth Waples.

The toddler drowned on Tuesday after she wandered from her Kelvin Heights home.

Veteran commercial operators say they could’ve helped search, something that was more formally agreed would happen in such instances after two Frenchmen drowned kayaking on Lake Wakatipu in 2010.

But Queenstown police chief senior sergeant John Fookes says Tuesday’s drowning began as a land-based search – and boaties are making assumptions.

“What we had was a child missing at an address in Kelvin Heights,” Fookes says.

“Initially there was no suggestion the water was involved. It’s not infrequent we get calls from people with missing kids and also invariably these things work out – probably half the time the child is still in the premises and has concealed itself somewhere.”

Police were called to Peninsula Road, Kelvin Heights, shortly after midday Tuesday when mum Alana Waples reported her daughter couldn’t be located.

Officers found Violet lying face down in the lake at 12.45pm – about 100 metres from where she was last seen.

In spite of CPR attempts by both police and St John she didn’t regain consciousness.

A veteran boatie, who didn’t want to be named, says several craft in the area could’ve helped.

Boaties listened to an incident unfolding on an emergency channel, unable to decipher police codes.

“There isn’t a boat operator who wouldn’t put all of his resources and staff into finding a child who’d fallen into the water, or any bugger who had fallen into the water,” the boatie says.

“If you ring the police honest to God it’s like a death sentence because time will just bleed away. It’s far better to ring one of the jetboat operators.”

Fookes says boaties would’ve been informed had it been a marine search, adding police alerted Coastguard and Kawarau Jet as a precaution – and to provide an off-shore perspective on the land search.

Fookes also says police attempted to contact harbourmaster Marty Black: “I rang the harbourmaster but couldn’t get through. [But] we weren’t conducting a marine search at that point.

“They’re jumping the gun. The problem you have is when people don’t know all the circumstances and make a number of assumptions. As a result, they’ve probably concluded we were looking in the lake.”

Fookes says the child’s body was found within 20 minutes by police, soon after the lake edge became a search focus.

Boaties, police, the harbourmaster and Coastguard met in December 2010 after Frenchmen Yoann Firdion, 24, and Raphael Soubrier, 21, drowned.

Queenstown Bay operators wanted to be more involved in searches and it was agreed Black would draw up a list of operators, which was done.

Black yesterday said he didn’t know full details of Tuesday as he was dealing with a boat recovery in Wanaka.

“I really can’t say any more until we have further discussions. We’ve not only got the Coastguard, but the operators that can respond, especially during the daytime, very quickly. I wasn’t involved and it’s just something we’ll work through with police at a later date.’’

– extra reporting James Beech, ODT