Connor Hayes and Joanna Lam.
A young Canadian couple killed when their campervan was
swept off the road by a landslide during a wild West Coast
storm last year had tried to turn back, but had their way
blocked by another rockfall.
Connor Hayes, 25, and girlfriend Joanna Lam, 24, died when a
landslide pushed their rented motorhome off Haast Pass into a
swollen Haast River on September 10, last year.
Ms Lam's body later washed up on a beach some 55km away, but
Mr Hayes' body was never found.
Wreckage from the campervan was recovered from the river
during a massive search operation.
Today at a joint inquest before Coroner David Crerar in
Greymouth, Haast police officer, Senior constable Robin
Manera told of the events leading up to the pair's deaths.
The young couple had arrived in New Zealand two weeks before
radiographer Ms Lam was due to start new job at Nelson
Hospital on September 15.
They decided to do some travelling before then, and had
rented a white VW campervan from a Nelson rental company on
The next day they enjoyed a guided walk on Fox Glacier before
arriving at Haast River Top 10 Holiday Park about 4.45pm.
Manager Norma Dougan told Ms Lam the camp was closed due to
the bad weather, and that the next town was Wanaka - a
Ms Lam asked to use the camp's computer or her phone to
contact work and family but Ms Dougan advised the internet
connection could not be guaranteed due to the stormy weather.
There was strong northwest winds and galeforce wind warnings
They ate at the local Haast pub before leaving about 5.35pm -
that was the last time they were seen alive.
It was six days before they were reported missing.
On the second day of a massive search operation, wreckage was
found in the Haast River gorge.
The subsequent police investigation established that Haast
woman, Dayna Buchanan had been driving that night, headed for
Dunedin - a trip she did once a month.
In the worst conditions she'd seen, Ms Buchanan was following
a white campervan when she had to stop to free some debris
which had got caught up in her car. The campervan carried on.
Two people, including an experienced local road worker
William John Caird, stopped to help her remove the sticks.
She went on her way and followed Mr Caird, who'd worked in
the area for 33 years, along the pass. He called his bosses
about 7.30pm to close the road, he told the inquest today.
About 8pm, at an area called The Trickle, just past Diana
Falls, Mr Caird and Ms Buchanan had to stop due to a slip
blocking the road.
A white campervan was on the other side of the slip that
consisted of a large tree and shingle.
One of the party shone a torch at the campervan and told them
to turnaround, but got no response. Ms Buchanan told the
hearing that she couldn't tell if it was the same white
campervan she'd earlier been following, as its headlights
were "blinding", and it was raining heavily.
Ms Buchanan abandoned her car there and got a lift back to
Later police inquiries established there had been two slips
on the road - the second one 800m past the first.
Mr Manera said subsequent enquiries show it was the second
slip that wiped out Mr Hayes and Ms Lam.
It wasn't known whether the pair were inside the van at the
time of the slip.
Ms Lam's body was found on September 20, on a beach 6km north
of the mouth of the Haast River mouth, 55km from the
He told the hearing that Mr Hayes' body has not been found.
His bank account has not been accessed and there were no
Bernie and Kath Monk, whose son Michael died in the Pike
River mining tragedy, represented the Hayes family at the
inquest. There were no representatives from the Lam family.
Mrs Monk read out a statement by Connor's father Michael
Hayes where he spoke about the overwhelming support and
sympathy he's received from the
West Coast community and advised that he hopes to return to
Greymouth to take part in the second part of the inquest.
Coroner Crerar issued a finding today on their deaths which
he hoped would ``satisfy the legal requirements for both
Given that Mr Hayes' body has never been found, he was
"satisfied to quite a high degree'' that both he, and Ms Lam,
died near Diana Falls on September 10 last year after their
campervan was "struck by avalanche of trees, rocks and
associated debris'' which pushed them off the road, down a
cliff, into the Haast River, causing them to die from "high
energy impact injuries'' to the head, chest, spine, and
He passed on his sympathy to the families, saying: "It's a
tragedy for young ones, prime of life, just starting out on a
new job, out here in New Zealand ... it's awful families have
lost children in these circumstances''.
Coroner Crerar adjourned the hearing until a later date when
the circumstances of the deaths will be investigated more