Home' Greymouth Star : August 23rd 2017 Contents Greymouth Star
Wednesday, August 23, 2017 - 5
Missing sailor ‘probably dead’
uAccident, mishap or suicide likely — coroner
he mystery disappearance of
an experienced Marlborough
seaman three years ago will
remain undetermined although
a coroner has all but ruled out
foul play or a faked death.
After two hearings and a year of
deliberations, coroner Marcus Elliott found
that Kerry Blair — who was born and
raised in Greymouth and left in the early
2000s — voluntarily left a remote bay in
the Marlborough Sounds, which cannot be
named for legal reasons, and went out to sea
“searching, it seems, for solitude”.
The coroner concluded it was possible that
55-year-old Mr Blair either went overboard
during an accident or mishap or that he took
his own life.
“Although he died on that journey, the
immediate cause and circumstances of
his death remain unknown,” Mr Elliott
said in findings that also makes seven
recommendations aimed at improving
future police search and rescue operations,
especially communication with family
The long-awaited findings, “feel like a slap
in the face” for Mr Blair’s son Dylan, whose
criticisms of the police search were deemed
unjustified by the coroner.
“I ’m disgusted by the process,” Dylan Blair
“ To say dad voluntarily took the boat . . .
I struggle to come to grips with that. There
was no evidence he was ever on the boat, let
alone took it. He would never have taken the
boat out there.
“I understand allegations of foul play were
hearsay and probably wouldn’t have stood up
in court but I don’t think it ’s something that
could be definitively ruled out either.”
During the inquest, family members
speculated that three people, whose
identities cannot be reported due to legal
reasons, could have been involved in Mr
On the morning of Saturday March 8,
2014, Mr Blair woke with “violent pain”
in his back and kidneys, according to a
co-worker, housemate, and close friend. He
took paracetamol and did no mention it
He bought a Lotto ticket on-line, checked
e-mails, Facebook, the weather forecast eight
times, and accessed a website designed to
“look up the place you were born . . . and
check out when you’ll probably die”.
The housemates lunched together at 2pm.
It was a beautiful, calm day in what they
both called paradise.
Mr Blair, in shorts and t-shirt, seemed his
usual self. The man with 40 years’ maritime
experience felt like getting “greasy fish `n’
chips” for tea.
After lunch, his friend returned to painting
inside the property’s cottage.
About 4pm, she heard the inboard diesel
engine of the Senator boat idling. Soon
after wards, she heard it leave. Nobody saw
Mr Blair go and he was never seen again.
She phoned his cellphone. Two calls — at
10.14pm and 10.16pm — were diverted to
A minute later, an outgoing call from his
cellphone dialled voicemail, “presumably to
check his messages”, a Spark NZ compliance
manager told the inquest. That was the last
time his phone was used.
His cellphone polled off a tower at Golden
Bay — in the wrong direction, and miles
from where he said he would be going.
Police officers later investigating the
mysterious case would find a photograph
taken on his cellphone at 7.35pm on the
day he disappeared. It captures a setting sun
glistening on the sea’s western horizon, as
well as the boat ’s side and rail.
For the family, however, the picture
provokes more questions than answers.
“That photo is not a selfie,” daughter
Rochelle Foster told the inquest.
“Dad is not in the photo himself. That
photo puts the phone on the boat. To me,
that doesn’t necessarily say Dad was on the
Mr Elliott said it was possible to draw
some conclusions about Blair’s state of mind
and intentions from the evidence.
“He departed (the bay) alone and
voluntarily. He didn’t tell anyone where
he was going and didn’t answer his phone
when people called him. He did not contact
anyone even though he had the means to
do so. He didn’t make any attempt to seek
assistance at any point. It can be concluded
that he wanted to be alone, did not want to
speak to anyone and did not want anyone to
know where he was.
“Mr Blair took a photograph of the sunset
on his phone. However, it is difficult to
know what this tells us about his state of
mind without resorting to speculation. ”
Shortly after 11am the following day, the
co-worker phoned police. She also alerted
maritime radio, local resorts, friends, their
boss, and Blair’s family.
A massive search operation was launched.
Younger brother Peter Blair flew down
from Tauranga, arriving Monday morning.
He met local police and was appointed the
family’s point of contact.
But the Blair family — the children in
particular — became frustrated that police
appeared to spend more time looking into
his background and character than the seas
The family thought something was up.
His disappearance was “definitely out of
character”, his son Dylan, himself a former
commercial fisherman, said.
They funded their own aerial search and
became increasingly frustrated with the
police-led search operation, especially a
perceived lack of communication.
“It was a nightmare trying to get
information,” Dylan said.
Dylan suspected foul play.
“Someone else had to be involved in some
description,” he said.
But when he raised his suspicions, he felt
police treated him “ like it was a joke”.
On March 14, six days after Blair
disappeared, an RNZAF Orion sur veillance
aircraft finally took to the skies.
Within 40 minutes, the boat was spotted
200km off the coast of Taranaki. There was
no sign of life on board.
“I just can’t understand why it took so long
to get up in the air. The first 48 hours is
critical,” Dylan said.
Once the boat was found, and there was
no trace of Blair, son Dylan believes police
became “fixated” on a theory of suicide.
Police denied many of the family’s claims
during the inquest.
They say they approached the “enormous”
missing persons operation with a practical
clarity that emotional and distraught family
members could not.
Police say there were no indications of
foul play for them to investigate at the time,
though they “kept an open mind”.
Mr Elliott, who dismissed family claims
the police failed to follow standard protocols
and didn’t get an Orion up earlier, gave eight
reasons why the legal threshold for a finding
of suicide was not met.
There was no evidence about what Mr
Blair’s subsequent actions or intentions were
after he allegedly left the bay.
“S hutting the boat down and letting it
drift are steps he may well have taken had
he intended to end his life in some way.
However they do not lead inevitably to the
conclusion that this is what he did,” Mr
“As to Mr Blair’s intentions, we cannot
know precisely what they were when he
left (the bay). His internet searches of sea
conditions indicate he was considering
a journey but they do not tell us why. In
addition, his intentions may have changed
after he departed.
“He embarked without any significant
supplies. He did not necessarily embark for
the purpose of making a long journey or to
end his own life. He may have embarked
for the purpose of buying fish and chips
but then, for reasons unknown, made the
decision to head in a different direction. He
may have just been seeking isolation. It is
possible that he considered turning back at
various times. We simply do not know.”
Dylan, and his grandmother Joyce Blair
who died in April just months after her 90th
birthday, were unable to believe he took his
“S he died without any closure due to the
length of time things took,” Dylan said.
“ It was mother’s intuition that someone
had taken her son from her. It ’s probably a
good thing that she’s not alive to read this
“ I’d hate to see another family go through
what we’ve gone through over the last few
years. It ’s not something you’d wish on your
worst enemy. We hoped that by eliminating
the risks or making the process easier for
families dealing with sort of thing, then
we could take a good thing out of a bad
Dylan still feels there was more chance of
his father being alive than having taken his
own life or succumbing to an accident or
“ With either accident or suicide, he’d have
had to have voluntarily drive the boat all the
way out to Farewell Spit, and I just know he
would not have done it. Even if he wanted
to commit suicide there’s a million and one
other places he would’ve gone than have
gone all the way out there.”
Mr Elliott ’s recommendations. —
Th e search and rescue chapter of
the police manual be reviewed for the
purpose of incorporating guidance about
determining whether a person should be
treated as being missing or in distress. (ii)
Assessing when the “uncertainty phase”
or “alert phase”’ or “distress phase” should
be declared. (iii) Deciding the appropriate
actions to take at each stage.
Th at police and Maritime New Zealand
give consideration to incorporating the
questions . . . in their standard consideration
about whether a person is in distress.
Th at police consider incorporating
means of communication (such as telephone
conference, email or drop box information)
which allows for the ready dissemination of
information to a family group where Police
are searching for a missing person.
Th at police provide a brief outline of
the background and experience of the lead
searcher to the family during the initial
stages of the search.
Th at police seek input from the family
and consider it as part of their post-search
Th at all information obtained in the
course of a police search should be notified
to the lead searcher as soon as practicable.
In cases of attempted rescue police
consider the necessity of having medically
qualified people available to assist and
arranging for this where necessary (subject
of course to availability). — N Z ME
uEx-Greymouth man’s disappearance unexplained
Kerry Blair went missing on March 8, 2014, and has not been seen since.
Kerry Blair with his three children, Rochelle, left, Dylan and Cherise.
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