Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the APNZ News Service office in Wellington.

Body of soldier returns to family

Private (PTE) Michael Victor Ross, aged 29 years, from Kaitaia. Photo / NZDF
Private (PTE) Michael Victor Ross, aged 29 years, from Kaitaia. Photo / NZDF

The body of Private Michael Ross will be returned to his family today following the completion of a post mortem examination.

The 29-year-old from Kaitaia died when he fell overboard from an inflatable boat while on a training exercise on Lake Moawhango, near Waiouru, last Tuesday.

His body was found yesterday after an extensive search by navy and police divers.

Ruapehu Area Police said the results of the post mortem examination, carried out in Palmerston North, would form part of the ongoing coronial inquiry.

"The death of this young man is an absolute tragedy for his family and friends.

"Although we would have wished for a happier outcome, we're relieved that the body of Private Ross has been found and that he can be returned to his grieving family."

Yesterday Private Ross's family said they were relieved his body had been found.

Private Ross's parents, George and Eileen, had been at Lake Moawhango since their son fell overboard.

George's cousin, Gordon Ross, said having the body returned would help give the family "closure" but the family was still in the dark about what led to his death.

"[How did it happen] ... I would really love to know, but I can't seem to get any details about how he came to be in the lake," Mr Ross said.

"I just don't know. It's a question I'd be asking myself, about how did that actually happen."

Mr Ross said there was "nothing to dislike" about the 29-year-old soldier.

"He was just very family orientated and very respectful."

The family is yet to make funeral plans.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman expressed the Government's condolences Private Ross's family.

Private Ross was an experienced serviceman who had served his country well both in New Zealand and Timor Leste, he said.

"The loss of any of our service people, whether abroad in action, or here at home is tragic. My thoughts are with Private Ross's family, friends and colleagues at this sad time. The only consolation is that he can now be returned to his family.

"My thanks go to the NZ Defence Force and police personnel who have worked so tirelessly over the last week to locate Private Ross," Dr Coleman said.

Specialist sonar equipment was used to pinpoint the spot where the body was found.

Inspector Steve Mastrovich said police and Navy divers found the body in about 40 metres of water.

Divers and support craft from the Auckland Police Maritime Unit brought the body to the surface, and took it ashore a short time later.

Police would continue the investigation on behalf of the coroner into the circumstances of how Private Ross was lost overboard.

Commander Training and Doctrine, Colonel Evan Williams, said at times more than 100 personnel had been involved in the search.

- APNZ

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