Fa­ther’s an­guish as tragic de­tails emerge

Central Otago Mirror - - WANAKA NEWS - By DEIDRE MUSSEN

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.

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