Earthquake victim Jo-Anne Mackinnon laid to rest: 'She was an amazing mum'

By Sarah Harris

Earthquake victim Jo-Anne Mackinnon was laid to rest with a hair-raising haka in her hometown today.

It was the last thing her partner Gary Morton wanted to do for her after tragedy struck their Mt Lyford log cabin home on November 14.

The coffin was flown in by helicopter while her close family arrived in another helicopter.

The procession was called onto the graveyard and greeted with a haka at the intimate burial. Waves of heat washed over the mourners as they were overcome with emotion.

Mackinnon's friend Lisa said an emotional farewell to the woman who had been "like a mother" to her.

She said when she was young she idolised Mackinnon who"seemed to be the exciting one who went to parties with lots of men on Harley Davidsons".

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But as they got older their relationship matured. They looked after each other's children and Mackinnon did the flowers for her wedding.

"She was such a good person, an amazing mum and I loved her very much."

Mackinnon's ex-colleague told the crowd she was fantastic and amazing.

"Jo-Anne was funny she always had us laughing in the office. She was so proud of the family.

"We're all devastated to lose her."

Morton was left holding his partner's body in his arms after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake walloped the South Island's northeast coast last week.

He wanted to return the 55-year-old to the place she came into the world.

But he needed help.

"She was born in Kaikoura and has a family plot there," he told the Herald.

"But [we] cannot get her there because of [damaged] roads. We've got big 4WDs for the people. It's just the casket.

"It's just too impersonal to have a casket banging around in the back of the ute. It's a wee bit too Kiwi."

Roads into Kaikoura have been closed since the quake, although attempts are being made to clear an inland route to the seaside tourist town.

Morton had hoped a helicopter could fly the mother-of-two's body to Kaikoura to be buried alongside her grandparents in the family plot. But he couldn't find a helicopter pilot who was available.

After the Herald published their story, a Christchurch helicopter owner contacted Morton and offered to fly his partner's body to Kaikoura so she can be buried. They also transported Morton and his family in a separate chopper.

Mackinnon's funeral took place at St Peter's Catholic Church in Christchurch yesterday.

Morton didn't want to share his memories of Mackinnon, but friends wrote online of a woman "full of energy, humour and compassion".

Donna Charles wrote about her "absolutely fabulous friend".

"This was not the way it was meant to be, and I will miss you so much."

Morton said the couple ran for the door when the quake struck.

"I could feel her hitting my back. Then some bolts holding the log cabin down broke and the cabin moved very sharply and we both hit the ground hard.

"I have lots of cuts but that's all. I could not find her and was yelling out with no reply."

He went to his car and turned on the headlights.

"I put the lights on the doorway and there she was."

With no power or phone, and few permanent residents in the village, Morton sought help at Mt Lyford Lodge 500m away.

Staff were helping guests so a tourist went back to the cabin with him, Morton said. They attempted CPR, but Mackinnon was gone.

It was 14 hours before a helicopter arrived to take Mackinnon's body to Christchurch. Morton stayed by her side the whole time.

The hours before dawn were hard.

"It was terrible. I've never, ever felt so helpless and alone in my life. It was pitch dark, the house was gone, it was still shaking and she was dead in my arms."

A preliminary report from the coroner indicated the cause of death was unknown. Full findings are expected in eight weeks, he said.

- NZ Herald

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