10 Jan 2009

Fox Glacier body remains trapped under ice

10:48 pm on 10 January 2009

An aerial search of Fox Glacier has revealed that the body of an Australian man killed by falling ice would not have been dislodged despite heavy rain in the area.

Ashish Miranda, 24, and Akshay Miranda, 22, of Melbourne, were crushed by 100 tonnes of falling ice at the glacier on the West Coast of the South Island on Thursday.

With some of the rubble the size of small cars, police said the men had no chance of survival.

Police were able to to recover the body of Ashish Miranda on Thursday night but the body of his brother Akshay has not been retrieved yet.

Heavy rain on Friday night washed away some of the ice at the base of the glacier and a helicopter was sent up on Saturday morning to survey the glacier and a river downstream.

However, there were no sightings of Akshay Miranda's body which is still believed to be trapped under ice. Police say the ice face is still too unstable and dangerous to be approached.

A new ice fall, upstream from the original collapse, has restricted the river flow through the original site. Constable Tony LeSueur of Hokitika police said this will slow down any further shifting of the ice.

DoC staff are monitoring the site until at least Monday, when they and police will meet to reassess the situation.

Brothers crossed safety barrier

Constable Paul Gurney said the brothers had crossed the safety rope to take photos and were directly under a large ice shelf when the ice collapsed. It could not have been forseen, but keeping behind the barriers would have saved their lives.

Mr Gurney said the incident is tragic and the men were unlucky to be under the ice when it broke away, but safety barriers are there for that reason.

The brothers were holidaying in New Zealand with their extended family. Two relatives of the men were taken by police on Friday to the area where the body is trapped.

Glacier unpredictable - DoC

The Department of Conservation said the terminal face of Fox Glacier is very steep at present and subject to random ice collapses.

Conservation Minister Tim Groser said it was too early to say whether safety procedures at South Island glaciers need to be altered.

Mr Groser said extensive procedures are in place at the glacier, but people also need to take responsibility for themselves and reports on the Fox Glacier incident will indicate whether there need to be changes.

There are calls for a reassessment of warning signs at Fox Glacier. Massey University glaciologist Martin Brook said DoC has few viable options to make the area safer, short of having a staff member watching out for people at all times.

Mr Brook said DoC could investigate brighter warning signs such as those used in the Italian Alps, which are bright red, with exclamation marks.

He said the current signs work well for New Zealanders but are ignored by people not familiar with alpine conditions.

Tributes for brothers

The two Indian-born brothers were close friends who both excelled academically, friends in Australia said.

Friend and work colleague Ralph Nunes, 23, was due to start gliding lessons this week with Ashish Miranda, an aerospace engineer with Boeing. Mr Nunes said the pair were close.

He told the AAP news agency Ashish Miranda was outgoing and athletic and loved playing indoor soccer.

Dr Arvind Sinha, a former academic supervisor from RMIT University, said Ashish Miranda was a hard-working, dedicated and sincere student, and said the aerospace industry had lost a "future star."

Monash University vice-chancellor Adam Shoemaker said Akshay Miranda was a brilliant student who was in his last year of studying a combined degree in science and engineeering.

Tributes on Akshay Miranda's Facebook homepage described him as "a true friend" who fitted in straight away when his family arrived in Australia from Mumbai in 2000.