Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Missing Beckenridge case remains a mystery 12 months on

Mike Zhao-Beckenridge has been missing for a year, since he was picked up by his step-father John Beckenridge.  Photo supplied by NZH Police
Mike Zhao-Beckenridge has been missing for a year, since he was picked up by his step-father John Beckenridge. Photo supplied by NZH Police

A year after John Beckenridge and step-son Mike Zhao-Beckenridge disappeared in Southland under mysterious circumstances, police are no closer to finding out what happened to them.

Swedish-born helicopter pilot John Beckenridge broke a court order by picking up 11-year-old Mike Zhao-Beckenridge from his new Invercargill school on March 13 last year.

The pair, who by all reports enjoyed a close relationship, camped at various places in the Catlins before Mr Beckenridge's dark-blue 4WD Volkswagen Touareg went off a 90m cliff near Curio Bay a week later.

It took police six weeks to recover the battered wreck from the treacherous waters and there was no sign of any bodies.

John Beckenridge Sourced for use in News SUN 24May15 - John Beckenridge WAG 25May15 - NZH 25Jun15 - NZH 13Jul15 -
John Beckenridge Sourced for use in News SUN 24May15 - John Beckenridge WAG 25May15 - NZH 25Jun15 - NZH 13Jul15 -

Now, with Sunday marking one year since they disappeared - with many Catlins locals, and friends and neighbours of Mr Beckenridge believing he staged their deaths and they're hiding out either in New Zealand or overseas - police have said the case is still actively being investigated.

But there have been no reported sightings since they were seen at Tokanui garage on March 17.

READ MORE:
Fears grow for missing boy
Missing boy: Interpol on high alert

At a press conference at Invercargill Police Station this morning, Acting Detective Senior Sergeant Stu Harvey said there has been no confirmed sightings since March 17 last year.

Police are still treating it as missing persons case.

Mike's mother Fiona Lu has repeatedly declined to comment, but Mr Harvey said she has been frustrated at the lack of concrete leads for police.

All the evidence police have suggest they have never left the Catlins area.

Over the past year, police have received multiple sightings of the pair reported to them by members of the public across New Zealand, including Southland and Canterbury.
However, the potential leads never amounted to anything.

Border alerts flagged up within 24 hours of Mike's disappearance from James Hargest College's junior school in Invercargill on March 13 last year remain in place.

Police recovery of a car near Curio Bay NZH 07May15 - Divers attached floats to the Volkswagen Touareg so it could be dragged out to a waiting fishing boat. Police could not say if there were bodi
Police recovery of a car near Curio Bay NZH 07May15 - Divers attached floats to the Volkswagen Touareg so it could be dragged out to a waiting fishing boat. Police could not say if there were bodi

Police say they have reviewed "all relevant CCTV footage" in relation to the investigation, including airports security footage, and CCTV from Tokanui Service Centre where Mr Beckenridge was captured filling up with gas in the days before his car went over the nearby cliff.

The last confirmed sighting of the pair was at the Tokanui garage on March 17, Mr Harvey said.

The exchange was captured on CCTV. Police have refused to release the footage.

And the last contact was on March 20 when a text message was sent by Beckenridge in the Curio Bay area.

"As we approach one year since Mike Zhao-Beckenridge and John Beckenridge went missing, police are aware that there remains some unanswered questions and police staff are still working to answer these," he said.

"Police would like to reiterate that this case remains open and it's a missing persons case and police continue to make inquiries into any new information we receive."

Ms Lu has been kept updated by police over the last year.

"Mike's mother has always hoped that he is alive," said Mr Harvey, who said investigative staff also hold that hope.

"As you can imagine, there are a lot of frustrations held due to there being no confirmed information since the sightings in the Catlins. These frustrations are also held by our staff.

"Police's ultimate goal continues to being closure to the family, whether that be bringing Mike home or finding definitive answers to their questions."

He stopped short of making a plea for the missing pair to come home, if they are still out there, saying they would be "quite aware of the interest" in the case.

"We are keeping an open mind to what's actually happened to them," he said.
Police continue to liaise with overseas agencies for what Mr Harvey called a criminal investigation.

Mr Harvey wouldn't say who those agencies are, or how they are helping with inquiries.
But he said that there is a "major time lapse" on getting information back from overseas agencies which is holding up Kiwi police.

There has been "a lot of sightings" over the last year from within New Zealand and "all over the world", Mr Harvey said.

They have all been investigated.

New Zealand police have also sought advice from overseas, Mr Harvey said, and that is an ongoing process.

"We will keep going until all our questions are answered by them," he said.
And police haven't had any information to suggest that anyone has helped them evade capture.

"We've spoken to a lot of people, and a lot of friends, associates of John Beckenridge. There has been no information at this stage that we have that would suggest that... somebody is helping them."

Police say they will still follow up any leads that comes in.

The file won't be passed over to the coroner until all avenues are "exhausted". But once the file is handed over, police will continue to follow up any new information that comes to light.


Mr Beckenridge, who was living in an upmarket Queenstown estate before disappearing, was well-known in Papua New Guinea flying circles.

Pilots recall an experienced, talented and popular commercial pilot, who is also flew in Afghanistan and is believed to have several aliases, including John Locke, John Robert Lundh, Knut Goran Roland Lundh and John Bradford.

Pacific Helicopters PNG chief executive Mal Smith, his former boss who has been interviewed by New Zealand police, said he knew Mr Beckenridge had been having "problems getting access to his kid but we didn't know it was to that extreme".

Aviation expert Peter Clark has said it would be "improbable but not impossible" to flee New Zealand by helicopter.


Listen to audio from the police press conference

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