Mys­tery of miss­ing boy and step­fa­ther

Con­flict­ing re­ports on whether they are in sub­merged car or over­seas

Central Otago Mirror - - NEWS - By HANNAH McLEOD

Cu­rio Bay – peace­ful, pic­turesque, wild. It is also hid­ing se­crets. A lit­tle over one month ago, Mike Zhao-Beck­en­ridge, 11, was not wait­ing for his mother when she went to pick him up from James Hargest Col­lege.

It is be­lieved he left his school at lunchtime with his step-fa­ther John Beck­en­ridge, 64.

Mike was not sup­posed to be in the com­pany of Beck­en­ridge. Po­lice would later say in state­ments that any con­tact the pair had would be in breach of a par­ent­ing or­der.

A Fam­ily Court judge had de­cided Mike should no longer live with his step-fa­ther, who had "alien­ated" him, but in­stead should live with his mother in In­ver­cargill.

De­spite this, po­lice be­lieve Mike went with Beck­en­ridge will­ingly.

Po­lice is­sued bor­der alerts "a short time" af­ter the miss­ing per­sons’ re­port was filed on March 13, with images of the pair given to bor­der se­cu­rity staff, and the names po­lice were aware of – Beck­en­ridge also went by the names John Lundh, Knut Go­ran Roland Lundh, and John Brad­ford.

Days af­ter the pair’s dis­ap­pear­ance, on March 16, a farmer no­ticed the pair in a Mike ZhaoBeck­en­ridge, 11. re­mote bush area near Slope Point and no­ti­fied po­lice. This re­mains the only and only con­firmed sight­ing of the pair.

This prompted a plea from De­tec­tive Sergeant Mark McCloy to Beck­en­ridge: "John can give me a call . . . and talk to with me per­son­ally about his sit­u­a­tion." But a call never came. Po­lice car­ried out a search op­er­a­tion in the Tokanui and Hal­dane un­til on Sun­day, March 22, car parts and a back­pack were found washed up on a beach in Cu­rio Bay.

Dur­ing the next sev­eral days, dozens of search and res­cue vol­un­teers scoured kilo­me­tres of coast­line, find­ing more car parts.

An area was iden­ti­fied where po­lice be­lieved a car could have been driven over a cliff, a buoy put in place to mark the area where an oil slick was seen.

Af­ter mul­ti­ple thwarted at­tempts by the po­lice na­tional dive squad to en­ter the wa­ter, on March 26, an un­der­wa­ter cam­era was used to con­firm a car wreck rested on the ocean floor be­neath an 88m cliff.

Po­lice con­firmed the parts and wreck are Beck­en­ridge’s car, and the back­pack found washed up on the beach was Mike’s.

Un­able to re­trieve the car found by an un­der­wa­ter cam­era, po­lice can’t con­firm whether there are bod­ies in the ve­hi­cle.

Not only are they bat­tling tough weather and ti­dal con­di­tions, but they have been un­able to iden­tify the best method to get the car out.

A po­lice spokesman said the area in ques­tion was dif­fi­cult to ac­cess and the way the car was lodged posed prob­lems.

And this is where it ap­pears the search has stalled.

Yet, so many ques­tions re­main. Where are they? De­spite po­lice telling Camp­bell Live they were treat­ing the pair’s dis­ap­pear­ance as a mur­der­sui­cide, they have also said it is pos­si­ble they have left the coun­try.

McCloy said ev­i­dence pointed to the pair be­ing in the car when it drove over the cliff. Po­lice had mea­sured the dis­tance be­tween where the car stopped and the cliff’s edge, which in­di­cated the car was air­borne and trav­el­ling at speed when it went over. How­ever, po­lice said on Wed­nes­day they were not rul­ing out that Beck­en­ridge could have left the coun­try us­ing pass­ports that were not known to the New Zealand au­thor­i­ties.

A source close to the fam­ily spoke out on be­half of Mike’s mother last week.

"The fam­ily has a great faith . . . there is hope and at this stage, and as a mother, she must cling to that.

"You can’t get any closer to the bone. Where is the boy?"

The fam­ily had been to Cu­rio Bay mul­ti­ple times since the car had been found in the wa­ter, and had searched the Catlins area ex­ten­sively be­fore­hand, the source said.

The fam­ily wanted to en­cour­age the public to con­tinue to be vig­i­lant and to re­port any pos­si­ble sight­ings.

Ac­cord­ing to Beck­en­ridge’s clos­est friend, Mike was des­per­ate to re­turn to live with him. Swedish air­line pi­lot Roger Hen­ric­son has Beck­en­ridge’s friend for 40 years.

"The boy kept ring­ing him up . . . [ask­ing for Beck­en­ridge] ‘to come and pick me up’."

Beck­en­ridge was up­set af­ter he lost cus­tody of Mike, he said.

A boat with po­lice divers aboard in a bay near Cu­rio Bay dur­ing the ini­tial search.

Search and Res­cue vol­un­teers Rod­ney McCraw, of Owaka, left, and team leader Lianne Latta, of the Catlins, dur­ing the ini­tial search phase.

John Beck­en­ridge.

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