25 May 2020

Donations to fund will repay search agency's 'selfless' efforts to help find missing trampers

1:23 pm on 25 May 2020

An online fundraising campaign set up by the brother of one of two missing trampers west of Nelson has raised more than $11,000 in the first 18 hours.

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A Defence Force helicopter helps in the search for two trampers missing in Kahurangi National Park. Photo: NZ Defence Force

The money is aimed at helping the search and rescue organisation, LandSAR, and its volunteers out searching for Jessica O'Connor and Dion Reynolds.

The pair, both 23 years old, went tramping in the Kahurangi National Park 16 days ago but failed to return when expected.

Dominic O'Connor has launched a Givealittle page, in an effort to show his appreciation for what he said were the incredible efforts being made to look for his "beautiful, adventurous sister" and her friend.

"LandSAR has selflessly supported the search and rescue effort to return these beautiful souls to their family and friends.

"Although this doesn't come close to repaying the work being done by LandSAR - along with the police, defence force and fire service - but I hope that it can at least convey the immense amount of gratitude of Jessica's family, Dion's family and all their friends," Dominic O'Connor wrote.

Poor weather in the area has hampered search efforts. Police said today's search has been suspended, and they are planning to resume once the weather has improved.

Yesterday all but one of the teams searching for the pair had been pulled back due to bad weather. Weather reports said heavy rain was continuing in the area, which Jess O'Connor was said to be familiar with.

Jessica O'Connor and Dion Reynolds failed to return from their tramp when expected.

Bad weather is disrupting the search for Jessica O'Connor and Dion Reynolds. Photo: Supplied / NZ Police

A friend and colleague described her as calm and well liked among kayak guides in the Abel Tasman National Park.

The Marahau-based guide who was also her former flatmate said she borrowed a map from him to explore the Anatori River area where searchers have been looking.

The guide, who declined to be name out of respect for the families, said Jess was a calm, solid-thinking, "very fine person" who was well equipped to handle the outdoors.

He understood her brother, Dominic, was based in the UK.

"Anatori is a bit of a tradition with outdoors-folk and locals, driving or walking to the Kahurangi lighthouse, beach walking, fishing and exploring the creeks and rivers inland.

"Jess was making plans to explore more during lockdown, and borrowed a map from me to make loose plans to explore the Anatori River catchment, which is exactly where they've been searching."

He said what might have happened to the pair was a "blank canvas" and that anything was possible.

Dominic O'Connor said the families were taking solace in the commitment and hard work of the emergency response efforts, and they knew that they were doing everything they could to bring Jess and Dion home.

"New Zealand's caring, never-give-up attitude is encapsulated within LandSAR - an organisation of volunteers who give up their time and put themselves in harm's way to undertake rescue efforts throughout New Zealand.

"We hope and pray for the safe return of Jess and Dion."

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