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NZ: Australian's death not properly investigated

15 Mar 2009 2:18 PM

WELLINGTON, March 15 NZPA - The mysterious death of an Australian scientist in Antarctica in 2000 was not properly investigated, according to a report for the US National Science Foundation (NSF).

Astrophysicist Rodney David Marks, 32, died in May 2000 from methanol poisoning while working with 49 others at a research base operated by the NSF.

Christchurch coroner Richard McElrea said last year it was unclear how Marks came to ingest the methanol at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, and he recommended that the Government consider means of ensuring full investigations of deaths in Antarctic territory.

Mr McElrea said the methanol overdose was undiagnosed and probably happened one to two days earlier. There was no question of suicide, he said, but Mr Marks may have mistakenly consumed methanol from laboratory sources thinking it was ethanol.

"He was known to binge drink alcohol," Mr McElrea said. Police had found a culture of heavy drinking and drug taking among some of those wintering over.

An alternative theory was that, without his knowledge, he consumed methanol either as part of a prank or something with a more sinister motive.

According to the report for the NSF following the inquest, police had faced eight years of "legal, diplomatic and jurisdictional hurdles" in their investigation of Mr Marks' death, the Herald on Sunday reported.

In the report, Detective Senior Sergeant Grant Wormald testified that the NSF had provided him with no inquiries, failed to stop the other people at the base from leaving New Zealand before being interviewed, and only provided contact details for witnesses after approving the questions.

A report by a foundation doctor, obtained by Mr Wormald, said that "when an individual aged 32 years dies unexpectedly, the matter warrants a homicide investigation", the newspaper reported.

However, there was no evidence to suggest murder or an accident, the doctor said.

Police said last week that discussions had started with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade about changing the investigation rules covering Antarctica.