Brothers crushed by ice named, glacier search postponed

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The recovery of a second Australian brother, feared dead, after being crushed by falling ice at Fox Glacier has been postponed because it is too dangerous, police say.

The body of Ashish Miranda, a 24-year-old aerospace engineer for Boeing, was recovered yesterday, but the search for his brother Akshay Miranda, a 22-year-old student, had to be abandoned about 8pm last night due to dangerous conditions.

The brothers were crushed by ice after crossing safety barriers at the terminal face to take photos around 4.20pm.

Department of Conservation (DOC) staff and glacier workers continue to monitor the glacier and the search will resume as soon as it is safe, Constable Paul Gurney said.

He said the two men were the only children of their parents who they lived with in Melbourne.

Indian website daijiworld.com reported the family had migrated to Melbourne from Mumbai.

A Mumbai-based aunt of the brothers said the family was still hoping and praying that Akshay would be found alive.

The brothers' parents are Ronnie and Winnie Miranda, the website said.

Constable Tony LeSueur, of Hokitika, earlier told Radio New Zealand: "Their (the boys) parents are on holiday with them, they're in Fox Glacier at the moment and they've been informed. Sadly this is their only two sons that died."

The family was due to fly back to Australia on Sunday morning.

Ice face collapse

Fox Glacier Guiding chief executive Rob Jewell said the men were visiting the glacier - one of New Zealand's most popular tourist attractions - without a guide.

They had apparently gone beyond the glacier's roped-off viewing area and walked for up to 15 minutes to reach the face of the glacier.

While taking photographs the pair were struck and buried by ice after a section of the ice face collapsed, said Mr LeSueur.

Some of the ice blocks in the rubble were the size of large vehicles, he said.

Local guides were quickly on the scene but were powerless to assist due to the unstable and unsafe nature of the current ice structure, said Mr LeSueur.

By nightfall, police, fire service and St John Ambulance staff were at the scene with Department of Conservation staff and six guides from Mr Jewell's company.

The Solid Energy Rescue Helicopter with paramedics from Greymouth was also there.

A digger working nearby helped clear away a small part of debris and found the body of one of the men, however a search for the other man was unsuccessful.

A heavy rain warning issued for the area could have dramatic effects on the glacier and would either assist or hamper search efforts, Mr LeSueur said.

Glacier unstable

He said people visiting areas like the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers needed to respect safety barriers and notices.

Both the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers were advancing and had vertical, or in places overhanging, terminal faces.

These were extremely dangerous places to be and were continually subjected to unpredictable rock and ice falls, he said.

Mr Jewell said the glacier's face was an unstable and unsafe place to be at the best of times.

It had frequent collapses which sent large blocks of ice flowing downstream.

Recent warm weather had made the glacier even more unstable.

"The present condition of the terminal face is quite steep," he said.

"We have got warm temperatures ... and obviously we have got frequent ice collapses, but we have had a good sized one [yesterday]."

His company was operating guided tours on the ice throughout yesterday, but none near the glacier face when the accident occurred.

DoC procedures

DoC area manager Jo Macpherson said a lot of people were in the valley yesterday, and it was a member of the public who raised the alarm about the ice collapse.

Conservation Minister Tim Groser said it was a "tragedy of almost unimaginable proportions (for the parents) to lose both sons in one tragedy".

Mr Groser was at Fox Glacier but was staying out of the way of the operational staff conducting the search.

"There are extensive safety procedures in place, these are reviewed annually, there's also been independent assessment of these procedures.

"We're dealing with a situation that is a highly dangerous and dynamic natural environment involving rock, ice and rivers."

The procedures were last reviewed in August last year.

He said the facts of the latest incident would be reviewed by the Department of Conservation (DOC), police and probably the coroner.

There will always be risk, but also "some responsibility on the part of these individuals who go into these areas".

Tourist injured in 2007

The last glacier incident involving injury to a tourist occurred in February 2007, when a man standing beside an ice cave at the face of the Franz Josef Glacier, also on the West Coast, was struck by falling debris when the roof collapsed.

DoC said that year that almost one third of the 600,000 visitors to the West Coast glaciers ignored warning signs and entered danger zones.

In October 2000, a 30-year-old Thai tourist was severely injured when she crossed a safety barrier and was crushed by an icefall.

Asked yesterday if people were continuing to flout the rules, Mr Jewell said: "Unfortunately, yes.

"People don't seem to realise the risk they are putting themselves in.

"They are inexperienced people and they are on holiday and maybe their guard is down. They just don't understand the potential for something to happen. A lot of people just like to touch the ice, which is a pretty crazy thing to do."

- OTAGO DAILY TIMES, NZPA

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