17 Jul 2012

Court told Iraena Asher most likely swept away

10:17 pm on 17 July 2012

A police search and rescue co-ordinator who spent five days looking for missing Auckland woman Iraena Asher has told an inquest her body is likely to have been swept out to sea in an outgoing tide.

Ms Asher, 25, disappeared in Piha in October 004.

Her emergency call for help the night she disappeared sparked a major review of the 111 system.

Senior Sergeant Mark Fergus was in charge of what he calls an extensive search for Iraena Asher.

Mr Fergus told the Coroner in Auckland teams combed the sea, beach, bush and nearby homes searching for any sign of her, and believes the most likely scenario is she drowned in the rough surf off Piha Beach.

He said about 75% of people who drown there wash up to shore, but the fact Ms Asher was naked could partly explain why her body was swept out to sea.

Detective Senior Sergeant John Sutton told the hearing Ms Asher was last seen walking in a distressed state by the beach, and witnesses who followed her said she just vanished.

Other possible scenarios were that she walked into the bush and got lost in the nearby Waitakarere Ranges, or that foul play was involved.

He said she suffered from bi-polar disorder, and had not been taking her medication properly.

Coroner Peter Ryan opened the hearing on what would have been her 33rd birthday, saying he will try to establish, as best he can, what happened to her.

Crown lawyer Simon Moore said Ms Asher was a young, vibrant woman who had a mental illness that flared up in the months before her disappearance.

Case background

Iraena Asher, 25, phoned police saying she felt unsafe and needed help, but a taxi was called instead, in the belief she was looking for a free ride home.

The handling of the call and Ms Asher's subsequent disappearance sparked a review of the 111 system.

A police inquiry and a report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority found a number of errors were made, and disciplinary action was taken against the dispatcher and a sergeant.

Under the Coroner's Act, people have to be missing for more than seven years before an inquest can be held to declare them dead.