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Bone of missing Canadian tourist found 3 years after vehicle swept away on West Coast

Author
NZME staff,
Section
National,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 19 October 2016, 1:53p.m.
Joanna Lam and Connor Hayes died after a huge slip swept their van into the Haast River.
Joanna Lam and Connor Hayes died after a huge slip swept their van into the Haast River.

The bone of a Canadian tourist who went missing three years ago has been found on the West Coast.

Canadian tourists Joanna Lam and Connor Hayes were killed when their campervan was swept off State Highway 6 near Haast Pass by a massive landslide.

In August a hunter found a human thigh bone near the Haast and Burke Rivers, which DNA testing confirmed belonged to Hayes.

On October 16 a further search was carried out on the Haast River, which involved volunteers with police and LandSar members from Wanaka and the West Coast.

West Coast Area Commander Inspector Mel Aitken said the search "recovered a number of items of interest from the riverbed, but police are yet to confirm whether they belong to Mr Hayes".

"Anything, including bones, which is believed to belong to Mr Hayes will be released to his family in Canada in due course."

Lam and Hayes arrived in New Zealand from Peru after a trip around South America on September 2, 2013, hired a campervan in Nelson and hit the road.

Their plan was to see the wild West Coast before heading back north in time for Joanna to start her new job on a six-month contract at Nelson Hospital.

The sheer force of the slip tore the campervan apart. The chassis ended up embedded across a boulder 80m away. The body and engine of the vehicle have not been found.

A massive search followed involving an alpine rescue team, search and rescue volunteers, helicopters, jet boats and locals on foot, quadbike and horseback.

Every logjam and pile of debris along the river to the coast, a stretch of about 50km, was examined.

A fuel tank was washed up, a cabinet cupboard door was found almost buried in gravel with just the top poking out and the van's mangled kitchen sink was hauled from the water, twisted and gnarled as if it were made of plastic.

The warped chassis was airlifted out of the river bed, sniffer dogs were brought in and the beaches were searched at every low tide.

A single $100 Canadian note was found in the riverbed, followed by the rubber boot from the gear stick and items of clothing belonging to the missing couple.

After another storm, which flooded the river again and flushed its contents out to a rough Tasman Sea, Joanna's body was located on North Haast beach.

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