Father’s anguish as tragic details emerge
A Canadian father is devastated to learn his son desperately tried to flee Haast Pass during a huge storm before two landslides blocked his escape and swept him and his girlfriend to their deaths.
Details about the tragedy were revealed at an inquest on Thursday for Canadian couple Connor Hayes, 25, of Ottawa, and his girlfriend, Joanna Lam, 24, of Ontario, who died on September 10. Michael Hayes said "everything that could have gone right to save them went wrong.’’
He was upset to learn three motorists, including a roading contractor who managed Haast Pass, saw the pair trapped by the first landslide near the pass but failed to notify authorities that night to ensure they reached safety.
Dayna Buchanan said she told Haast police the next day that she was worried whether the van got through the pass safely.
The next morning, police discovered their van’s wreck in the Haast River about half a kilometre downstream from the second landslide at Pipson Creek.
Lam’s body was found three days later, 6km north of the river mouth, which was 55km from the crash scene, but searches failed to find Hayes.
Mr Hayes said his family had hoped the pair were killed swiftly but the new information made them realise they had feared for their lives in their final minutes.
"This is a case of where the more information that we’ve been provided and the more the story firms itself up, for the lack of a better word, the more upsetting it is."
Buchanan had followed their campervan about 6.30pm toward the pass but lost sight of them at the Gates of Haast Bridge, where she stopped to clear debris from under her car.
She got roading contractor William Caird to escort her from there up to the pass, along with another motorist but a slip at The Trickle, about 500m past Diana Falls, blocked their way about 8pm.
They spotted a campervan facing them on the opposite side of the slip and tried to get their attention using a torch but got no response so the three motorists headed back to Haast.
Police believed the tourists had turned back while heading to the pass but turned around again when they found their way back to Haast was blocked, only to be killed by a slip about 800m away soon afterwards.
The pair were earlier turned away from Haast Top 10 Holiday Camp, which was closed because of the bad weather, and headed to Wanaka after eating at a local pub about 5.35pm.
Mr Hayes said he wished someone had told the young couple to stay in Haast, rather than brave the pass in such bad weather.
"It breaks my heart that someone didn’t say, ‘Bugger it, I’m going to go across the slip to the van, knock on their window and tell them to leave the van and come with us’."
He believed someone should have contacted authorities as soon as they could that night to warn that the campervan was trapped at least in one direction by a slip on the pass.
Fatal trip: Canadian couple Joanna Lam, 24, and Connor Hayes, 25, who died in a landslide near Diana Falls in September.
Grieving: Michael Hayes, father of Connor, speaks of the devastation of losing his son.