Dogged effort to identify remains gives climber’s family answers

Old-fashioned police work has led to the identification of a climber who died more than 40 years ago in Mount Aspiring National Park.

In 2016, human remains, items of clothing and property were found on the lower reaches of the Bonar Glacier on Mt Aspiring.

More than five years later, the climber was identified as Australian Terry Jordan, who died on the mountain alongside his friend Marc Weinstein.

On December 3, 1978, the duo left Wanaka to climb Mt Aspiring, and when they failed to return on December 15 after a period of severe weather, an extensive search was initiated.

Mr Weinstein’s body was found two days later, but Mr Jordan’s was not.

While at the time of the discovery the cause of death was not clear, the signs of significant trauma were consistent with a fall from height.

A report in the police Ten One Magazine said various lines of inquiry came up empty and the remains were unidentified for five years.

They could have stayed that way if it were not for a last-ditch effort from coroner Gaye Robinson and a dogged search by Canterbury police emergency management co-ordinator Sergeant Phil Simmonds.

As there was no DNA, dental records or fingerprint evidence because of the passage of time and environmental conditions on the mountain, Sgt Simmonds started with what he knew: reviewing all the paperwork, files and recovered property related to the case.

Among the items of interest were distinctive swimwear, tramping boots, glasses and a wristwatch.

Sgt Simmonds immediately ruled out a previous focus on another missing tramper because of their estimated height and discrepancies between the missing tramper’s watch and the watch found.

After talking to a network of mountaineers, avalanche experts and search and rescue volunteers, a mountaineer in Australia identified Mr Jordan as a climber who had never been recovered.

Contact was made with his family, who confirmed the swimwear and watch were likely to have been his.

Glaciologist Brian Anderson provided a map and timeline of the moving glacier, from the accident site to the location of the recovered remains.

It confirmed the hypothesis.

Although all the evidence was circumstantial, Sgt Robinson concluded the human remains were those of Mr Jordan.

Coroner Marcus Elliot reviewed the investigation and came to the same conclusion.

Mr Jordan’s family told Sgt Simmonds they always thought he would be found one day and were pleased it had finally happened.

At the family’s request, Mr Jordan’s remains were cremated.

Some of the ashes will be returned to Australia and the remainder will be scattered at the glacier.

On March 19 this year, human remains were found on Mt Aspiring, not far from where Mr Jordan was recovered in 2016.

These are yet to be formally identified.

Add a Comment

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter