Mt Aspiring mystery solved after remains found

mount_aspiring_otago_new_zealand_22_july_2005_jpg_50d91fdf19.jpg
Mt Aspiring. File photo
Remains found on Bonar Glacier in the Mt Aspiring National Park have been identified, five years after they were discovered.

A story in Police Ten-One Magazine said ‘‘old-fashioned police work and a never-give-up attitude" had brought closure for an Australian family after 43 years.

On December 3, 1978, Canberra librarian Terry Jordan (30) left Wanaka with his friend Marc Weinstein to climb Mt Aspiring.

The duo planned to return in 10 days. According to reports, they left French Ridge Hut to climb Pope’s Nose on December 10. The weather was severe.

When they failed to return on December 15, a search was initiated.

Mr Weinstein’s body was found two days later, but after an extensive search, Mr Jordan’s was not found.

An inquest concluded he had died from injuries resulting from a fall on the West Face of Mt Aspiring.

Then in 2016, human remains, items of clothing and property were found on the lower reaches of Bonar Glacier, one of Mount Aspiring’s three major glacial systems.

The cause of death was not clear but there was significant trauma, consistent with a fall from height.

Various lines of enquiry came up empty and the remains lay unidentified for five years.

The magazine said the body would have stayed that way if it were not for a last-ditch effort from Gaye Robinson of the Coroner’s Office and a dogged search for the truth by Canterbury Police emergency management co-ordinator Sergeant Phil Simmonds.

"I was contacted by Gaye to see if I could help," Sgt Simmonds said.

"I knew there would be a family out there somewhere without answers, so I was happy to look into it."

He has been involved in search and rescue (SAR) and disaster victim identification (DVI) for more than 25 years.

He has brought countless trampers and hunters home to their families from all over New Zealand.

He also played a key DVI role after the Thailand tsunami, the Christchurch earthquakes and the March 15 terror attacks. Despite the challenging nature of the work, Sgt Simmonds said he counted himself lucky.

"I’ve got a great job where I can make a real difference to people. I get to bring their loved ones home.

"Sometimes it’s not in the circumstances they would have liked, but they’re always grateful."

In this case, he said there was no DNA, dental records or fingerprint evidence because of the passage of time and environmental conditions on the mountain, so he started with what he knew.

"I reviewed all the paperwork, files and recovered property first.

"Among the items of interest there was a pair of distinctive togs, a pair of tramping boots, a pair of 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 with the unidentified remains.

He then reached out to a network of mountaineers, avalanche experts and SAR volunteers to build a picture of who was in the area at the time.

This helped narrow his search further.A mountaineer contact in Australia identified Mr Jordan as a climber who had never been recovered.

Contact was made with his family who confirmed the togs and watch were likely to have been Mr Jordan’s.

Sgt Simmonds also discovered a curveball that may have thrown the initial investigation in 2016 off-course.

A pair of glasses was found among the property, but they did not match Mr Jordan’s.

A photo confirmed the likelihood that the glasses found with Mr Jordan were actually Mr Weinstein’s. The final piece in the puzzle was to complete a glacial flow map.

Sgt Simmonds contacted glaciologist Brian Anderson to provide a map and timeline, from the accident site to the location of the recovered remains.

It confirmed his hypothesis.

Although all the evidence was circumstantial, he concluded the human remains found in 2016 on Bonar Glacier were those of Mr Jordan.

Coroner Marcus Elliot reviewed the results of the investigation and his coronial findings 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 his final resting place — Bonar Glacier.

● On March 19, 2021, additional human remains were found on Mt Aspiring, not far from where Mr Jordan's remains were recovered in 2016. These have not been formally identified yet.

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