Belinda Feek is a NZ Herald reporter

Two men who died on Tararua Ranges tramp named

Michael Stepura from Lower Hutt was one of two men who died while tramping in the Tararua Ranges at the weekend. Photo / Supplied
Michael Stepura from Lower Hutt was one of two men who died while tramping in the Tararua Ranges at the weekend. Photo / Supplied

One of two trampers who died during an overnight walk in the Tararua Range at the weekend was a married Ukrainian man with two children.

His grieving widow is now urging others to take care when heading into the bush.

Police have released the names of the two trampers. They are Mykailo Stepura, also known as Michael, and Pavel Pazniak.

Stepura is originally from the Ukraine but lives in Lower Hutt, and Pazniak lives in Auckland and is originally from Belarus.

Friends of Michael Stepura of Wellington have set up a givealittle page to support his grieving family.

Stepura, originally from Ukraine, and Paul Pazniak, 32, died in mysterious circumstances on an overnight tramp to the Alpha Hut from the Waiohine Gorge campsite.

The 39-year-old software engineer and Pazniak set off on Saturday morning and were due back Sunday evening.

They were reported missing by a family member about 7pm Sunday. A member of the public found one of the bodies at 10.25am on Monday. The second body was found a short distance away. They died just 1km from a hut.

Pavel Pazniak. Photo / via Facebook
Pavel Pazniak. Photo / via Facebook

Temperatures overnight dropped to below freezing and police have said hypothermia is a possible cause of death.

Friends of the Stepura family, who lived in Lower Hutt, have rallied around widow Natalia and their two sons aged 6 and 16.

A friend, Slava Knyazev, set up the givealittle page to help them as they deal with their loss.

"Michael Stepura, father of two boys and loved husband, tragically died recently. This was completely unexpected and the family is shocked with this tragic loss.

"Michael was the main breadwinner for his family, and we are reaching out to the wider community to support his family during this hard time. Your donation would be used to assist in paying for the funeral and helping Michael's wife Natalia to transition to a life without her husband."

Natalia Stepura, who is also from Ukraine, didn't want to talk about the circumstances of her husband's death when contacted by the Herald today, however she reminded people to be careful when tramping.

A Stepura family spokesperson, who did not want to be named, said Michael was an outdoorsy person who enjoyed mountain biking.

"He was a sporty person. He liked tramping and he did it from time to time."

She said he was very well known in not only the Lower Hutt community but also the technology industry world-wide.

"We're all shocked. It's a shock to everyone because [his death] was so sudden."

She said the family still didn't know how Michael died and they were keenly awaiting the results of a post-mortem examination.

As for how Natalia was holding up, she was being supported by the community.

"She's a great and strong and smart woman. She has got kids and friends and she is doing as much as she can for this situation."

Michael was from the Ukraine capital of Kiev, she said.

Natalia was also a well-known dressmaker in the Lower Hutt community, she said.

A Givealittle page has also been set up for Pazniak, who is described as a "loving husband and father for his partner and two young kids, and a sole provider for his family".

The page aims to raise money for Pazniak's partner and children to "cover their expenses associated with funeral and loss of main income during this very difficult time".

Just under $9,500 has been donated since the page was created on Monday.

According to Michael Stepura's LinkedIn page, he has been in New Zealand for four years and worked for accounting software giant, Xero.

A Xero spokesperson said all staff were "deeply saddened by the loss of our team mates Pavel Pazniak (known to us as Paul) and Mykhalo Stepura (known to us as Michael).

"Our focus is on supporting his family at this difficult time. We would like to respect their privacy and will not be sharing any further details at this time."

Other friends were expressing their shock on social media, with one saying he was always the first to help others, while others just couldn't believe that he was dead.

Department of Conservation Wairarapa operations manager Kathy Houkamau said the tragic deaths coincided with bitterly cold temperatures in the forest park.

"I understand that overnight on Saturday it was very cold with the temperature dropping several degrees below zero."

Houkamau said a lot of things were not clear about the ill-fated weekend trip, including whether the men were carrying communication equipment, what type of clothing they were wearing and if they were intending to stay at a nearby DoC hut.

A post-mortem examination on the bodies is expected to be completed today.

Police said they wouldn't be making any comment around how the pair died, what they were wearing or any personal details until they had the autopsy results.

- NZ Herald

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