Backpacker's dad lays plaque in memory of son

JOHN EDENS
Last updated 05:00 07/12/2013
Eric Soubrier
JOHN EDENS/ Fairfax NZ

MEMORIES: Eric Soubrier on the beach with Cecil Peak in the background, before climbing to lay a memorial for his son Raphael. 

Raphael Soubrier
Raphael Soubrier
Yoann Firdion
Yoann Firdion

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The father of a young French backpacker who drowned in Lake Wakatipu made a poignant gesture of remembrance yesterday for his son and his friend.

Three years ago yesterday Raphael Soubrier, 21, and Yoann Firdion, 24, drowned in one of Queenstown's worst boating tragedies.

Eric Soubrier, an Air France pilot, was ferried across the lake to Cecil Peak to hike the route his son and Firdion traversed, and lay a stone memorial plaque.

He said his wife and the Firdion's family found it too hard to travel back to New Zealand.

"He (Raphael) was enjoying himself. I think they died happy. They were in a very good and nice time of their life.

"We wanted to make it together with [Firdion's father] but he told me that it's too hard for them. It's hard for me, too, but I think I will be a lot better for that.

"I am very happy to make it, I'm feeling better for coming with this stone, it's a memorial. It's a big day for me but I'm not so sad."

He hiked up Cecil Peak to lay a memorial plaque that reads: "Here they climbed Raphael and Yoann 6.12.10 Rest in Peace."

Photos recovered from a camera showed the spot where the men hiked to before descending to the lake edge, where they waited because the weather was turning then, fatefully, decided to head back to Queenstown.

The pair set off in calm conditions on the morning of December 6, 2010, to paddle across the lake from Queenstown Bay to near Hidden Island and hike Cecil Peak.

Bad weather had set in when they descended after the hike, with a 20-to-30-knot southerly and a 1-metre swell.

At 10pm a commercial operator received a panicked phone call muffled by strong winds.

A rescue helicopter from Te Anau spotted the men's bodies in the water about 12.45am after a three-hour search and rescue.

An inquest highlighted the men's ill-preparedness and the dangers posed by New Zealand's inland waterways.

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- Fairfax Media

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