Searchers find no sign of Canadian pair

BLAIR ENSOR AND JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 15:49 19/09/2013

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Police have delivered the heartbreaking news two Canadian families didn't want to hear - their search for Connor Hayes and Joanna Lam is now a recovery operation.

Hayes, 25, and Lam, 24, were last seen at Fox Glacier last Tuesday. Wreckage from their rental car was found this week in the Haast River.

The announcement this afternoon by Inspector John Canning means hope of finding the young couple alive, barring a miracle, is gone.

"If they survived the battering in the river they would have been washed up on the banks as the river went down," Canning said.

However, search teams on the ground and in the air had found no signs of life.

"[The chances of finding them alive] are pretty close [to zero], but I would never say zero," he said.

A helicopter sweep of the area ended this afternoon and the search would be scaled back until bad weather cleared, he said.

Police earlier said their bodies may have been washed out to sea.

"It is a very real possibility, but it's not a fact," Canning said. "We are finding debris on the beach north of the Haast River mouth."

"[Their chances of survival] is definitely bleak," he added.

Crews have been focusing downstream from the crash site and along the West Coast near the river mouth, while a helicopter with specialist heat-seeking equipment and a search dog from Christchurch had been added to the team.

It appears the pair drove east through Haast Pass in dark and stormy conditions that forced other motorists to turn back last week. The alarm was only raised this week when Lam failed to turn up for work.

"We just want some sort of closure to bring them home," Lam's brother Jeffrey said this morning.

"I miss her smile. I want her to come home for her birthday [next week] so that everybody can smile with her."

Lam said his parents were really struggling to come to grips with what had happened to their daughter and "are really in pain".

"They are not doing well ... especially being so far away and not being able to control anything."

He thanked search and rescue crews.

"From the bottom of my heart I want to express some gratitude. [Please] continue these efforts. We just want some sort of closure to bring them home."

Their families had clung to hope the couple would be found alive despite haunting images emerging yesterday of their wrecked vehicle wrapped around a boulder.

However, police delivered the news late yesterday that will have broken their hearts.

They believe the couple made it through the Diana Falls area of State Highway 6, where there was a major slip later in the night, but "in all likelihood" were hit by another landslide further east.

Police would be talking to the coroner.

The couple arrived in the country on September 2 and had travelled around the North Island before heading south.

Lam was due to start a six-month placement at Nelson Hospital on Monday. She would have been working as a medical imaging specialist in the radiology department.

Hayes planned to return to Canada after making sure she was safe and settled in the role. He was training to be a police officer.

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The couple had been together about two years and were living together in Ottawa, Ontario, before the trip.

The family last heard from Lam on September 8. The couple was enjoying the country's beautiful scenery, she wrote in an email.

They were experienced travellers and had hiking gear, sleeping bags and other equipment to survive harsh conditions, he said.

Jeffrey described his sister as a free spirit with a bubbly personality.

"The most captivating thing about my sister has to be her smile. She treated the world as her oyster."

- Fairfax Media

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