Grieving relatives cried and held each other as a man and woman’s bodies were pulled from a suburban Christchurch lake where a driving lesson went horribly wrong.
Avneel Ram, 26, was teaching his wife Sheetal Ram, 31, how to drive when she put her foot on the accelerator and drove into the lake at Halswell’s Westlake Reserve on Tuesday evening.
Police are yet to release the pair’s names, but family have confirmed the Rams were involved.
Avneel Ram dived into the lake to try reach his wife as their car sank into the deep water. He eventually did not resurface.
The couple’s 5-month-old baby was being cared for by a grandmother elsewhere at the time. The baby remains in her care.
Police divers entered the lake on Wednesday morning looking for the couple.
Canterbury metro area commander Superintendent Lane Todd said their bodies were found close to the submerged car, which was on its roof about 6 metres below the surface.
Friends and relatives were at the lake as the bodies were retrieved about 12.30pm on Wednesday. They formed a guard of honour as the bodies were placed in a waiting hearse.
Family and friends cried and held each other on the shore of the lake, where Avneel and Sheetal Ram are believed to have drowned.
“This is a very tragic event for the wider family, many whom are gathered here,” Todd said.
A crane lifted the car out early Wednesday afternoon. The front windscreen was damaged. There were L plates on the front and back.
“What appears to have occurred is about 5.40pm last night a vehicle has driven into the lake, we are still working to determine what the causes are,” he said.
‘THEY FELL IN LOVE’
Sheetal Ram’s brother-in-law, Hinesh Kumar, said the missing couple, were “really friendly and kind people”.
The Rams were married on February 14, 2016, and moved to New Zealand from Fiji a couple of years ago.
“They fell in love and got married,” Kumar said.
“It’s really hard and shocking for us. We never expected this to happen to our family.”
A friend of the missing couple said Sheetal Ram had only recently got her learner driver licence.
“He was trying to teach her how to drive here and instead of putting her foot on the brake she put her foot on the accelerator and the car went into the water.”
Avneel Ram was “well-known” in the community and ran an air conditioning business.
DESPERATE RESCUE BID
Emergency services were called to the park, about 10 kilometres southwest of central Christchurch, about 5.45pm on Tuesday.
A witness at the scene, Jordan Fleming, said he was walking his dog in the park when he saw a woman in the red hatchback’s driver’s seat and a man outside the driver’s door.
Police divers started searching for the car in Westlake on Wednesday morning.
“It looked like the man was trying to open the door or communicate to the lady and I heard the accelerator go and that’s when the car went off the bank, down the hill into the lake.
“Then the man went into the water and swam after the car and then the car sunk.
“He swam down and came back up a couple of times; then it would’ve been about the fourth time he went down and didn’t come up. So there’s currently two people in this lake.”
There were reports the pair had been arguing.
Another woman in the park removed her jacket and went into the water to help, but turned around “about halfway”, Fleming said.
The police spokesman said “numerous people went into the lake with ropes to try and get to the vehicle”. Police officers had also entered the water with wetsuits and flippers.
Rescuers could see the car, “but it was too deep to reach”.
“At this stage the vehicle hasn’t been located because the water’s too deep,” he said.
A police cordon was set up on the Westlake Drive side of the lake as officers worked under torchlight on Tuesday night.
A scene guard was in place by 8.30pm and remained there overnight.
Many residents living opposite the lake were unaware of what had happened, having arrived home from work to a cordon in the park.
The lake level had been low this year, before recently rising due to heavy rainfall, one neighbour said.
The Rams moved to New Zealand from Fiji a couple of years ago.
In late May, police searched around the lake, which used to be a shingle pit, for missing Halswell man Michael McGrath. The builder has not been seen since May 21.
The 17-year-old was driving home to Greymouth about 8.20pm when he saw the car half-submerged in the Otututu River.