4 Nov 2014

Second inquest on Canadian couple

6:01 am on 4 November 2014

An inquest in Greymouth today will examine the circumstances that led to the death of a Canadian couple whose campervan was swept off the road while driving through the Haast Pass.

Connor Hayes, 25, and Joanna Lam, 24, were driving from Haast to Wanaka in the South Island when their rental vehicle was swept off the road by a landslide in September 2013.

Part of the couple's vehicle found in the Haast River.

Part of the couple's vehicle found in the Haast River. Photo: TV3

An inquest was held in February this year regarding the landslide and events of the accident, but the coronial inquest at Greymouth District Court today will examine the circumstances of the crash.

The couple started travelling around New Zealand in August last year. Friend Tamara Sagadore said Ms Lam had always dreamed of visiting New Zealand.

"It was a beautiful part of the world that she really wanted to go to, just from all the movies that are shot there. She's a very outdoorsy person, she would really make the most of all it had to offer".

Joanna Lam was going to be working as a radiographer in Nelson, and it was on a Monday when she failed to turn up for work that concerns were first raised.

An extensive search was carried out by police, who searched the Haast River and coastline.

Parts of the van were found first, including the back wheels and the chassis in a gorge in the Haast River, along with what police believed to be its petrol tank near the mouth, about 50km away from where the vehicle was swept into the water.

Helicopters searched the river down to the mouth, and a used a search dog to cover the beach looking for the couple's bodies.

Eventually, Joanna Lam's body was found washed up on Haast beach, but despite efforts by police and the local community Connor Hayes' body has never been found.

Camping ground offer declined

Radio New Zealand understands that the couple arrived at a camping ground in Haast which was closed due to severe gales and heavy winds, but they were offered a cabin which was more expensive.

The couple declined the offer, deciding instead to drive through the Haast Pass to Wanaka.

There had been problems with the route through the pass since a massive slip at Diana Falls earlier in 2013, and ongoing roadworks have taken place since to address the slips and washouts. The road has been closed periodically and not open to traffic overnight.

The couple drove through in rough weather, and while the camping ground manager warned them not to push on, the road was open to traffic at that point.

At the February inquest, Coroner David Crerar ruled that the couple were killed as a result of a landslip creating an avalanche of trees and rocks which swept their campervan off the road into the Haast River.

Mr Crerar examined the accident itself, the weather, why the couple carried on, what caused the slip, and also heard from a witnesses about what happened.

In today's hearing, the coroner will hear from police, the New Zealand Transport Agency and an independent witness on the circumstances around what happened, what could have been done to prevent it, and who, if anyone, is at fault.

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