Investigators won't say why it took seven hours for the survivor of a fatal Southland crash to contact police.

Police today revealed a 40-year-old passenger managed to escape from a car that became submerged a Southland river earlier this week.

The car entered the Mataura River off Holz Rd about 5.30am on Monday. However, police were not alerted until 1pm.

Police could not comment on the time it took for the accident to be reported, saying this formed part of their ongoing investigation on behalf of the coroner.

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The man who managed to get out of the vehicle did not require any medical attention, police said today.

The dive squad from Wellington was called after police, marine search and rescue and Coastguard were unable to confirm whether anyone was in the car.

Divers recovered the body of Te Iwiroa Manakura Te Hapuka Smith, 44, of Curio Bay, from the car near Fortrose just after 12pm yesterday.

The car has been removed from the river.