Boat operator astonished sunken car took so long to be found

1:10 pm on 6 April 2017

The owner of a Nelson charter boat is astonished a sunken car belonging to a missing man wasn't found sooner, given the nearby wharf is popular place for fishing.

A vehicle resembling that in which Nelson teenager Leo Lipp-Neighbours was last seen seven years ago, has been hauled from Nelson Harbour.

The car being removed from Nelson harbour Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Police are confident the vehicle pulled from Nelson Harbour on Monday belonged to missing Nelson man Leo Lipp-Neighbours, who disappeared from his flat seven years ago.

Mr Lipp-Neighbours was last seen leaving a friend's house on 24 January 2010, driving his bright orange Toyota Corolla station wagon.

The car was discovered by crew members examining the anchor of a large superyacht moored at the wharf.

Lynley Bird of Seabird Charters, whose vessel is moored at the wharf, said she and her husband were on the wharf when the car was found.

"We were talking to the superyacht guys when they were pulling their anchor and they said they had found it ... so ... they called the police."

"There are many questions like, 'did it go off the wharf or did it go off Rocks Road (the highway around the Nelson waterfront) and get swept back to its location'," Mrs Bird said.

The area of the wharf where the car was found is one of the few publicly accessible parts of Port Nelson. It is a popular place for fishing; people dive off it, there is a restaurant close by, and the surf rescue base overlooks the site.

Mrs Bird said was evident that many people fishing off the wharf over the years had snagged their fishing line on the car, as it was found with several kilos of lead sinkers attached to it.

There are now a number of security barriers preventing vehicle access to the dock, but seven years ago it was possible to drive out on to it.

The police confirmed yesterday they have found what is almost certainly skeletal human remains in the car.

Nelson Bays Area Commander, Inspector Mat Arnold-Kelly, said formal identification would take time. Investigators would also focus on how the vehicle ended up in the water.