Deceased tramper’s family praise rescue team’s efforts
The family of an American tourist found dead in a river near Wanaka say they have ‘‘fallen in love’’ with New Zealand.
Allison Willen, who was known as Ally, disappeared after becoming separated from her two flatmates while tramping on the Gillespie Pass, between Young and Wilkin valleys, about 3pm on April 25.
Police said one of the Wanaka land search and rescue river rescue teams found the 20-yearold’s body about lunchtime on Saturday, high up in the Young Valley near Makarora.
Her body was discovered close to where her backpack and raincoat were found earlier in the week.
Willen’s uncle, Jeff Henry, and father Todd arrived in Queenstown from the United States last week.
Henry said the people of New Zealand had been ‘‘overwhelmingly awesome’’ and the search teams looking for his niece had been ‘‘spectacular’’.
‘‘Our family has fallen in love with everything New Zealand stands for.’’
The family had experienced ‘‘professionalism and love’’ from New Zealanders ‘‘all week’’, he said.
Ally Willen was originally from Akron, Ohio, but had been living and studying in Dunedin.
Twenty specialist teams, including the Coastguard, were involved in the search for her.
‘‘We had waited for three days after our initial effort for the water levels in the Young Valley to recede to an optimum searching level,’’ search co-ordinator Sergeant Aaron Nicholson said.
Her family were ‘‘very relieved to have Ally back’’, he said.
Her mother, Michelle Willen, was realistic about what had happened to her daughter in a phone interview with cleveland.com on Friday.
‘‘I know that she’s gone and it’s just her body, but it’s a body that I loved for 20 years,’’ her mother said. ‘‘I want it back.’’
Michelle Willen called her daughter an ‘‘old soul’’ who had spent month-long stints volunteering at orphanages in Tanzania, Guatemala and Malawi.
A third-year student at Eckerd College in St Petersburg, Florida, Ally Willen was studying for a semester at the University of Otago, her mother said.
‘‘She would want us to be celebrating her life right now,’’ her mother said on Friday.
Willen’s social media postings and photos of her travels had documented her newfound love for New Zealand. On March 30 she posted a photo of a glacier at Fiordland National Park and wrote: ‘‘Becoming increasingly obsessed and fascinated with the glaciers here’’.
Perhaps most poignant was another post she shared on February 23, a quote from Anthony Bourdain.
‘‘Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart.
‘‘But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you.
‘‘It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.’’