NZers of the Year: Simon Stables, forensic pathologist

By Catherine Masters

Simon Stables won't like being singled out from the scores of police and volunteers who headed to Thailand to help to identify bodies after the Boxing Day tsunami.

But Stables represents all the Kiwis who cancelled festive season plans to head to the unknown when giant waves wiped out parts of Asia.

The work in Thailand was gruelling and unpleasant. Stables, a forensic pathologist, went twice, for weeks at a time, toiling in the heat and terrible smell in a Buddhist temple that housed thousands of bodies.

Stables was among the first of the international teams to arrive at Takuapa in Phang Nga province. Bodies lay everywhere, rotting and blackened. They had been dead for some days and had bloated to double their size.

Stables and his crew simply rolled their sleeves up, put on some gloves, and got to work. He had seen plenty of corpses before but never on such a horrific scale and at the end of the first stint only eight bodies had been identified.

So, before he got on the plane to go home, he put down his name to return and do it again.

When the Herald met Stables at the body temple in March on stint number two, he talked of New Zealand woman Belinda Welch who had just been identified, not by Kiwis but by a member of a Swedish team.

The New Zealand team was rapt at the news: "You know, it's good to have one go home," Stables said at the time.

Getting people home, no matter their country, was what it was all about.

The New Zealanders are highly respected by other nations for their expertise and level of commitment - even though only five of their own died.

But, says Stables, that's just the Kiwi way.

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