21 Feb 2014

Inquest hears how couple died in slip

4:27 pm on 21 February 2014

An inquest into the deaths of a Canadian couple whose disappearance sparked a major police search has heard how they died when their vehicle was swept off the road by a landslide in Haast.

Joanna Lam and Connor Hayes, both in their mid-20s, went missing after their rented campervan was hit by the slip in bad weather last September. Ms Lam's body was found a week later on the beach near Haast; the body of Mr Hayes has never been recovered.

The inquest was told on Thursday that the couple tried to stop at a campground in Haast but were told the camping area was closed due to bad weather, so they carried on.

Campground manager Norma Duggan said that the weather was horrendous.

"I had a couple come through just over an hour after and they were quite frightened. They had waterfalls hitting the top of the van, they couldn't see the markings on the road, they felt like they were lucky they had arrived. But as they said to me there were no warnings, there was nothing. Things happen so quickly through there, no one can do anything about it."

A letter read out to the court on behalf of Mr Hayes's family on Thursday said they left New Zealand knowing no resources or manpower had been spared in the search for their son.

Coroner David Crerar on Thursday found that the couple died in the slip.

A further inquest into the circumstances surrounding the accident will be held at a later date.