Missing tourists: Families still cling to hope

By Lucy Bennett

Police hunting for bodies of couple after mangled van found, but relatives not giving up

Police believe Connor Hayes and Joanna Lam's campervan was hit by a slip and swept into the river.
Police believe Connor Hayes and Joanna Lam's campervan was hit by a slip and swept into the river.

Relatives of a Canadian pair whose van has been found smashed to pieces are holding out hope for their loved ones despite police yesterday saying they were now searching for bodies.

Several pieces of the wrecked rental van Connor Hayes, 25, and Joanna Lam, 24, were using have been found down a gorge on the West Coast.

Bits of the van have been located at various locations near the Haast River over the past three days after the initial discovery of the van's wheel and chassis down an 80m bank off Haast Pass on Monday morning. The van's fuel tank was found washed up on a beach about 7km north of the Haast River on Tuesday and a seat was also spotted by aerial searchers yesterday.

The Haast Pass highway has been closed since Tuesday last week after a storm caused a massive land slip.

Police said it was likely the couple's van was knocked off the road by a landslide that night and into the raging waters of the river below.

West Coast police area commander Inspector John Canning said a witness from Haast had confirmed they were following a campervan through the Haast Pass that night, but turned around because of rough weather. The campervan had continued.

"They have driven east on to Haast highway, and they've got almost to the Gates of Haast when a large slip has come down behind them," Mr Canning said yesterday.

"It appears they have probably been hit by a second slip, closer to the Gates of Haast."

A team of 16 police and volunteers searched the Haast river yesterday. Two jet-boat teams and a helicopter had been called in, and today, weather permitting, a helicopter with heat-seeking equipment will also be used and a search dog brought in to help.

The couple's shattered rental vehicle was discovered in a gorge.
The couple's shattered rental vehicle was discovered in a gorge.

Mr Canning said there had been no sign of the couple so far.

"We will continue searching until we've covered off everything but at this point things are not looking good for the survival of the pair," he said.

Ms Lam's brother, Jeffrey Lam, told TVNZ last night the family was trying to stay positive.

"We're trying the best to continue our efforts and encourage the New Zealand search and rescue to not give up."

His sister, who was supposed to start a job with Nelson Hospital on Monday, had an infectious smile and "warm, welcoming heart," he said.

She liked to travel and had a "free spirit".

Ms Lam's Aunt, Jennifer Lam, said she was being "very optimistic" and wishing for the best.

"All my hope is that they're okay," CBC in Canada quoted her as saying.

- additional reporting, Greymouth Star

- NZ Herald

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