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Staff at a Queenstown adventure guiding company are devastated after the body of a promising young tramping guide was retrieved from a creek bed near Te Anau yesterday afternoon.
Colleagues of Mitchell James Walker, who was employed by Ultimate Hikes, alerted police to the 22-year-old's disappearance after he failed to turn up for dinner on Wednesday night.
He had been working by himself in an area about 32km from the start of the Greenstone track, south of McKellar Lodge, at the head of the Greenstone Valley, on Wednesday.
Company media liaison Alexa Forbes said Mr Walker had been in regular radio communication with fellow guides.
In his last transmission, about 3.30pm, he said he would be back in time for dinner.
Sergeant Todd Hollebon, of Te Anau, said when Mr Walker failed to return by 7pm, his colleagues contacted police and began searching the area.
Senior Ultimate Hikes staff and a Queenstown-based helicopter joined the search, which continued until 10pm on Wednesday.
The search resumed at 4am yesterday, involving police, civilian search-and-rescue volunteers and Ultimate Hikes employees.
Sgt Hollebon said Mr Walker's body was found about 1pm after being spotted by a Southern Lakes Helicopter pilot ferrying rescue personnel to the area.
The body was lying in a gorge on the eastern side of the Livingstone Mountain range in Fiordland.
"It would appear [Mr Walker] was attempting to descend from a ridge toward the Greenstone Valley floor, when he has fallen approximately 40m in a rugged area of creek bed," he said.
The weather conditions were poor with low cloud and limited visibility, which hampered earlier search attempts.
Queenstown-based Ultimate Hikes is owned by Trojan Holdings Ltd and Ms Forbes said staff, including chairman John Davies, were shocked by the tragedy.
"He was a really popular guy," she said.
Mr Walker had been with the company for three years and was considered experienced by the company, which operates guided walks along the Greenstone, Milford and Routeburn tracks and around Mt Cook.
Mr Davies said in his 50 years of business, he had "never felt so devastated".
"I've never been in the position of losing such a young person with so much promise."
He had known the Walker family for more than 40 years.
"Mitch and his family are close family friends of ours," he said.
"Mitch was their only son and was a popular, talented young man.
"The Queenstown community will grieve his loss."
Sgt Hollebon said the matter had been referred to the coroner.