Police in North Otago are "desperately" seeking witnesses to help shed light on how a man was left paralysed for life after becoming tangled in a boating rope at Lake Benmore.

Police were called to the lake's Ohau C camping ground on December 28 to attend an incident involving a 73-year-old man from Timaru and two vehicles with boat trailers on the camping ground's boat ramp, police said.

Senior Constable Bruce Dow, from Oamaru, said due to "conflicting witness versions" police needed to hear from more people who may have seen the incident take place.

Sen Const. Dow said a red Mitsubishi and a green Toyota Prado had both backed down the ramp, one to unload a boat and the other to load a boat at about 3.20pm.


"The elderly man had assisted a relative to unload a boat and was holding on to a rope attached to the boat. The elderly man's boat drifted into the path of the other boat waiting to be loaded on to the trailer waiting for it, preventing it being loaded.

"Some heated words were made about this predicament. The result was that the driver of the vehicle which had unloaded the elderly man's boat moved up the ramp to clear it.

"During the course of this, the elderly man was flung into the side of the trailer waiting to load the boat resulting in elderly man suffering a life-long serious injury involving a broken neck and other injuries and is currently in intensive care at Christchurch Hospital.

"Due to conflicting witness versions, police are desperate to seek any witnesses to this incident and in particular are keen to speak to anyone who was present and saw the elderly man prior to being flung into the trailer.

"Briefly, he was holding on to a rope which somehow tightened on him and flung him like a rag doll into the side of a boat trailer, breaking his neck, with the inevitable resulting permanent injury associated with such breaks unfortunately."

He added, that there was confusion however over which rope the man was holding at the time.

It was still not clear if the rope was attached to his boat trailer or if it somehow got tied up with the other boat trailer parked beside his own, Con Dow said.

"He had a rope attached to his boat after it had been unloaded and he also had it wrapped around a wrist but I am keen to know where the other end of the rope was."

He said the man would be left tetraplegic for life, and doctors were still assessing if the man might also need a tracheotomy to help him to breathe.

Although the incident appeared to be "a freak accident" at this stage, police were still assessing potential liability for the cause of the incident.