British climber cremated in New Zealand

By Heather McCracken, Kurt Bayer

Robert Buckley. Photo / Echo
Robert Buckley. Photo / Echo

A British climber killed in New Zealand has been cremated after his distraught mum couldn't afford to fly his body home.

Robert Buckley, 31, died while climbing Mt Sefton in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park on September 14.

Mr Buckley, an engineer from Shoebury in Essex, had been living and travelling New Zealand since 2010, spending the last year working as a drainlayer on the post-earthquake Christchurch rebuild.

His family told the Echo newspaper this week that they could not afford the 5000 pounds (NZD$9663) to fly his body home or attend his funeral after his travel insurers refused to pay out.

Mr Buckley was farewelled at a cremation ceremony in Christchurch on Monday.

Friends and workmates attended the small service, but his mother Gill Ray, a part-time cleaner, was heartbroken at missing it.

"Flying 24 hours to get there, knowing what you're going there for, is not something I want to go through. And of course the cost of flying there is another thing I can't afford," the 58-year-old told the Echo.

The family had thought Mr Buckley's travel insurance would allow them to bring his body home, but were told because he had been resident in New Zealand for more than six months, it was no longer valid.

"I was really angry about it, but it is hard to think straight at the moment, to be honest," she said.

"It is such a hard time. I can't get used to talking about him saying how he 'was' instead of how he 'is'."

Now, the family will instead be flying his ashes home from New Zealand for a memorial to be held there.

He'd returned to the UK for his father's funeral last May, in what was his last visit home.

Mr Buckley had attempted to climb to Sefton Bivvy from Mt Cook Village on September 14 with three other young men.

He was within 80 metres of the bivvy when he slipped and fell 700 metres to his death, police said.

Police described the climbers as being inexperienced and insufficiently equipped for the climb.

When an overseas visitor dies as a result of an accident in New Zealand, ACC is able to provide a funeral grant.

It is not known if Mr Buckley's family have received the money, which can be used for burial, cremation, and related ceremonies.

Many New Zealand Herald readers were moved to help Mr Buckley's family before it was known that he'd already been cremated.

Several people offered financial help through the paper's Facebook page.

"Oh that is shocking... that poor family... surely NZ can help this family. Bad enough loosing a son let alone not been able to bring his body home or attend the funeral. How incredibly sad," wrote one reader.

Another suggested starting a trust fund, and pledged the first $100.

"I don't have much money of my own, but I would gladly give up whatever I had so that his family can bring him home and go through their grieving process," said another.

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