Te Papa boss Seddon Bennington found dead
The bodies of Te Papa boss Seddon Bennington and friend Marcella Jackson were found just a kilometre away from an alpine hut that would have provided them shelter in the storm.
Police said at a press conference this afternoon that the pair, missing since Sunday, were found just off the track, about a kilometre short of Kime Hut in the Tararua Ranges.
Dr Bennington, 61, and Mrs Jackson, 54, also known as Rosie Jackson, set off from Otaki Forks on Saturday for Kime Hut, about 10 kilometres into the range, but failed to return on Sunday afternoon as planned.
Their bodies were found around 10.50am today.
The Dominion Post's reporter at the scene this afternoon saw two bodies in bags being removed. It is understood the pair were found by one of the search teams that went in last night.
The bodies were taken by hearse to Palmerston North hospital.
Police said they hoped to have all the searchers out of the area today.
Former prime minister Helen Clark was among those who today paid tribute to Te Papa chief executive Seddon Bennington, who died during a tramp in the Tararua Ranges.
Miss Clark said she was ''deeply saddened'' by Dr Bennington's death.
''Seddon brought an era of stability to Te Papa. Our national museum and gallery was fortunate indeed to be able to attract Seddon back to New Zealand from the United States where he had built a distinguished career,'' she said.
Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Christopher Finlayson said Dr Bennington had "served Te Papa and the people of New Zealand well".
"He brought wide international experience and leadership to the role. He was well respected and will be sorely missed.
"My deepest sympathies go to his family and the staff and board of Te Papa, and to the family of Marcella Jackson."
Their families were this morning waiting at Levin police station as the search escalated.
Four search and rescue teams comprising 14 people started searching yesterday, but stopped about 6pm when it got dark. They hunkered down in a Tararua Range hut last night after searching rugged terrain in waist-deep snow, heavy rain and high winds.
The search resumed at first light today - but early efforts to send in extra rescue teams were hampered by heavy rain, low fog and mist.
Taking advantage of a break in the weather, an Air Force Iroquois helicopter took off from Levin Showgrounds at 10.15am carrying five searchers. The rescuers were heading for Penn Creek, near Kime Hutt. A second helicopter load departed before 11.20am.
Police spokeswoman Kim Perks said conditions were "harsh" and the weather was very changeable. A cold southerly blast was expected to hit this afternoon.
Heavy cloud prevented the use of a helicopter yesterday.
Search coordinator Sergeant Noel Bigwood said conditions were not good. "There is deep snow, thick cloud. When it is raining here it is often snowing up there. It is bloody cold."
Dr Bennington was an experienced tramper and the pair were thought to be well-equipped.
Chief executive of Te Papa since 2003, Dr Bennington had previously spoken to The Dominion Post about his fondness for the outdoors.
"My first tramps were in the Arthur's Pass area, a perfect weekend beginning late at night on a Friday, jumping off the train as it slowed around Klondike Corner," he said in 2007.
"Now, with the Tararuas visible from the office window, I frequently think of the satisfaction of being away from city lights and comforts, of traversing ridges, of the sleep that comes of a day's hard exertion, and of the respect for nature and weather that goes with the terrain."
Before taking up his position at Te Papa, Dr Bennington was the director of the Carnegie Science Centre in the United States.
He had also worked as the chief executive of the Scitech Discovery Centre in Perth, Australia, the director of Otago's Early Settlers Museum in Dunedin and the director for Wellington's City Gallery.
He had a PhD in Zoology from the University of Canterbury and worked for a year with the Volunteer Service Abroad in Western Samoa.
Mrs Jackson worked at Aotea Pathology and lives in Mt Victoria.
Aotea Pathology chief executive Karen Wood said Mrs Jackson, a medical laboratory scientist, was "a long-serving, highly-valued and respected member of staff".
- Dominion Post with Stuff.co.nz and NZPA