Israeli tourist died off track

ON A FATAL PATH: The last photograph of Liat Okin retrieved from her camera, taken by Auckland trampers at MacKenzie Hut the morning of her disappearance.
ON A FATAL PATH: The last photograph of Liat Okin retrieved from her camera, taken by Auckland trampers at MacKenzie Hut the morning of her disappearance.

An Israeli tourist who died near the Routeburn Track was likely to have been led away from the main path by an unknown person, police told the Coroner in Queenstown yesterday.

Liat Okin's body was found in the Roaring Creek by a search team on May 16 last year, more than six weeks after she went missing.

Police have said there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding her death.

During the inquest, Sergeant Brock Davis, of Invercargill, said he used scenic photographs in Ms Okin's camera to retrace her steps on March 26 and how she deviated on to a rough emergency route not long after leaving MacKenzie Hut.

The emergency route was not clearly visible from the main track, leading police to believe she was guided by an unknown person and then left in difficult terrain, he said.

"By far the greatest likelihood is that Liat Okin was shown the start of the emergency route and assisted up through it," he said.

The person was likely to have accompanied Ms Okin to the point where she took a photo, he said, which police judged to be about 40 minutes' walk from the main track.

Department of Conservation MacKenzie Hut warden Evan Smith was the only person aware of the emergency route in the area at the time but denied his involvement when questioned by police yesterday.

Police spokesman Senior Constable Chris Blackford, of Queenstown, questioned Mr Smith about the route.

"I never advised Liat Okin on the whereabouts of that route, I certainly didn't show Liat Okin that route and I certainly did not assist Liat Okin on that route," Mr Smith said.

He had talked briefly to Ms Okin when she arrived at the hut on March 25 about 8pm and "exchanged pleasantries" in the morning, when she was the last to leave, he said.

Trampers did occasionally take the wrong path but usually realised their mistake and retraced their steps, he said.

DOC track worker Clive Rule said he had marked out the the emergency route with tape ... but even if someone was fooled into following the ribbon it would become clear within 50m they had gone the wrong way.

Land Search and Rescue member Richard Kennet, who was the operations manager for the initial search, said he did not notice pink tape during his search, and there was no obvious reason why Ms Okin would stray from the path.

Based on her photographs, it appeared she followed the emergency route across a ridge below Ocean View Corner and then followed the ridge down to Roaring Creek where her body was eventually found, he said.

Several theories were offered as to why she descended from the ridge, including attempting a short-cut to the Hollyford Rd or returning to the MacKenzie Hut.

Sergeant Ian Kerrisk was with the group that found Ms Okin's body on May 16.

It was found in a dry eddy wedge under a ledge, about 80m downstream from where it appeared she had set up a campsite.

It is believed she fell on slippery rocks while exploring that night, possibly looking for water, hitting the front of her skull and injuring her spine, he said.

A letter from pathologist Dr Martin Sage says Ms Okin was paralysed as a result of the fall and either died from her head wounds or hypothermia.

"It is extremely unlikely she would have survived more than two days," he said.

Coroner Dave Crerar said a full report would be realised in the next few weeks, he said.

- Southland Times