The man who died in freezing conditions after battling for an hour to reach land when his boat was swamped in Fiordland has been named as well-known jet-boat maker Peter John McKenzie.

The 57-year-old was one of three men tossed from their boat into icy water off the southern coast of the South Island on Saturday afternoon.

They swam to shore but McKenzie died on the beach after waiting hours for help in bitterly cold conditions.

It's the second tragic death for his family after McKenzie's brother Morrell died in 2015 when his truck went off the wharf at South Port.


The Bluff brothers founded McKenzie Marine and Mackcraft, a jet boat manufacturing company.

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The three men went overboard on Saturday about 1km west of the Wairaurahiri River mouth. All were wearing life jackets but it's understood it took them an hour to swim about 1km back to shore.

As darkness fell the youngest man battled through 2km of rugged terrain to Waitutu Lodge where he raised the alarm.

The remote lodge had no cellphone reception and had to radio for help before police were called at 7.15pm.

The two remaining men, including McKenzie, were whipped by strong winds up to 20 knots and pelted with rain for up to four hours as they waited for help.

By the time a helicopter from Southern Lakes Helicopters arrived with a paramedic, McKenzie had died. The other man was freezing from sitting in the bitterly cold conditions.

One dead in Fiordland boating tragedy
Fiordland boat tragedy survivor battled through 2km of rugged terrain to get help

The surviving pair were taken to Invercargill Hospital and a second helicopter sent to retrieve McKenzie's body.


Sir Richard Hayes, who piloted the second chopper, said conditions were difficult. It was high tide and the beach was too steep to land the chopper on. He balanced the aircraft while three crew members retrieved the body, which was then flown to Invercargill Hospital.

Given the conditions, the two surviving men were lucky to be alive, Hayes said.

"They were in the water for about an hour. The water temperatures are pretty low along that south shore at this time of year. There was a bit of a sea running too.

"I guess the other two were quite fortunate that they survived."

The death had been referred to the coroner.

McKenzie's family and friends did not wanted to comment when contacted today.

However, several Bluff residents, who requested anonymity, said McKenzie was a good man and it was a sad day for the community.

McKenzie and his brother didn't just design boats - they also raced them, winning a world championship tournament in 1992, before expanding into designing and building boats for adventure tourism.

At the time of Morrell McKenzie's death in 2015, he was described as a "great Bluff guy" from a well-known family in the area.

- Additional reporting Otago Daily Times