The body of missing helicopter pilot Michael Mehrtens has been recovered during an underwater search at Lake Sumner in North Canterbury today.

The 35-year-old was the only occupant of the helicopter that crashed near Breaksea Bay on Monday May 21 while spraying gorse for the Department of Conservation.

A week later a Navy remotely operated vehicle (ROV) found the wreckage at a depth of 127 metres but there was no sign of the pilot.

A search yesterday using a radial sonar device located an object of interest among helicopter debris on the lake bed.


Canterbury Police Operations Manager, Inspector Craig McKay, says the body was retrieved around 5pm today and Mr Mehrtens' family have been briefed this evening on the recovery operation.

"The recovery team has been on the water since 6.30 this morning, using a NIWA submersible remote-operated vehicle to locate and retrieve the item - which is now confirmed to have been Mr Mehrtens' body,'' Mr McKay said.

"The NIWA operators, in conjunction with the Police National Dive Squad, have put in an outstanding effort in extremely challenging conditions to recover Mr Mehrtens.

"The operation today required four attempts using the manipulator arm on the ROV to latch on to the body, then bring it up to a depth of 30 metres where it was retrieved by Police divers.

"We are pleased that this outcome will now bring some relief and closure to Mr Mehrtens' family and friends.''

He said the body would be taken to Christchurch tomorrow, and released to the family once a post mortem examination was complete.

Mr McKay paid tribute to the many people and organisations who had contributed to the search and recovery efforts, including the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, Navy, LandSAR volunteers, Amateur Radio Emergency Communications, NIWA, private contractors and police staff.

"We are also very grateful for the assistance and support of the local community, volunteers and staff at Lake Sumner Station.


"The Police National Dive Squad have described this as a very demanding operation, because of the remoteness of the location, the depth of water and the complexities of searching and retrieving items from the site.

"Severe weather last week also hampered efforts - restricting access to the lake and delaying the arrival of critical equipment from overseas.''