On August 22, 2017, Laine Kelly told his wife he loved her before heading out for a day's fishing.

Kelly was meant to be back by 2pm. He never came home.

After two days of searching, the 60-year-old's body was found floating near Karewa Island. His homemade boat he dubbed "unsinkable" was nowhere to be found.

Three months later, his family gathered together in Tauranga's District Court on Wednesday to hear coroner Gordon Matenga deliver his findings relating to Kelly's death. Ultimately, his death remained a mystery, the court heard.


The search for Kelly involved several boats, helicopters and a spotter plane. When the Trustpower TECT Rescue Helicopter found a chilly bin floating on the water northwest of Karewa Island at 11.30am on August 23, Kelly's vertical body was found soon after. His wet mobile phone was still in his jacket and sunglasses on his head.

All I can say is he was found at sea but we just do not know why.


Matenga described Kelly as a careful and seasoned seaman. Kelly worked as a marine engineer for Sanford Seafoods and knew his way around boats. His own 3m aluminium vessel had been fashioned from an existing hull and fitted out to become Kelly's pride and joy, the court heard.

"To find him deceased in the water wearing a lifejacket and with no sign of his boat is a puzzle," Matenga said.

"There are a number of things that could have occurred, some of them include the suggestion ... the boat has come into contact with some marine life or been in contact with marine debris such as a floating or partly submerged log. If this occurred while Mr Kelly was travelling at speed, then I agree that could have been sufficient to cause catastrophic damage, sinking the boat and leaving Mr Kelly at sea," he said.

"However, there is no evidence that I can point to and it will, unfortunately, remain a mystery. All I can say is he was found at sea but we just do not know why."

Kelly's cause of death was drowning.

The court heard it was likely that Kelly became so fatigued and hypothermic he could no longer stop water lapping onto his face in what was described as choppy conditions.

Matenga said Kelly's death highlighted the importance of telling people where they are going and to always have two forms of communication.

Laine Kelly's boat is considered to be one-of-a-kind and has not been seen since he went missing in August. Photo / Supplied
Laine Kelly's boat is considered to be one-of-a-kind and has not been seen since he went missing in August. Photo / Supplied

Police Search and Rescue Bay of Plenty co-ordinator Sergeant Craig Madden and former Tauranga Coastguard manager Simon Baker both commented on the difficulties searchers faced.

The search began at 6.30pm after sunset and people were initially looking for a boat, which still had not been found, in a significantly vast search area.

Wife Donna Kelly said she was incredibly grateful for searchers looking for her husband.

"He had a big heart. He was very kind to people."

Troy Kelly said his father loved his "bespoke" boat and he doubted the vessel was an issue.

"In April I was up for his 60th, he gave me a walkthrough of the boat. He was really proud of it. I wanted to take it out but he said no. It was for him, it was his toy. It was very well maintained," Troy said.

Troy said if there was a message to be learned from his father's death, it would be to buy your loved ones an emergency locator beacon and use snaplock bags for mobile phones.

"Epirbs [Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons] are worth $80 but they could save someone's life," he said.

* The Kelly family would like anyone who believed they have seen the boat, or recognises it, to contact Tauranga police on 07 577 4300 or provide information anonymously via Crimestoppers 0800 555 111.

Recommendations for boaties

- Always wear a lifejacket and ensure it fits. Where possible wear one with a crotch strap to prevent the jacket from lifting in water.

- Always have two forms of communication, eg a VHF radio and mobile phone. And always ensure mobile phones are in a waterproof container or snaplock bag

- Always file a trip report. Tell family where you are going and tell Coastguard when you are heading out.

Source - Coroner Gordon Matenga