Michael Hayes has been struggling to remember the sound of his son's voice.
Whenever Connor was home he would walk up the stairs and say, "What's going on big guy?"
But those memories have started to fade since the 25-year-old and his girlfriend Joanna Lam, 24, disappeared on a remote stretch of road on the South Island's West Coast almost three weeks ago. Joanna's body has been found but Connor is still missing, presumed dead.
In his first interview since the tragedy, Hayes, 58, told of the pain he has felt watching search efforts near Haast from his home in Ottawa, Canada. The grieving father and his wife are set to fly to New Zealand early next week to help look for his son.
"I'm going to search myself so that I can spend the rest of my life knowing that when my son needed me the most I came for him and didn't let him down," Hayes said through tears.
Connor and Joanna were last seen alive at Fox Glacier on September 10. Police believe the Canadian couple's rented campervan was hit by a landslide and swept into a raging river as they travelled through Haast Pass along State Highway 6 later that day.
Fears for their safety surfaced a week later when Joanna failed to turn up for her first day of work - a six-month stint at Nelson Hospital.
Wreckage of their vehicle was found wrapped around a boulder in the Haast River the next day. Joanna's body was found on a beach north of Haast last Friday.
Connor remains missing despite extensive air, land and sea searches. On Sunday about 50 volunteers and Haast residents rallied to look for him. Police have scaled back their search amid fears his body might never be recovered.
Hayes, normally a very private man, chose to talk to The Press this week hoping to generate one final push to find his son's body and give his family closure.
He also wanted to "thank the Kiwis" for their search efforts so far.
"We are very grateful for everything that's been done."
Connor and Joanna had travelled to parts of South America - Peru, Bolivia and Chile - before flying to Auckland on September 2.
Connor planned to help Joanna settle into her new role in Nelson, before returning home to train with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
On their journey south they watched the All Blacks play Argentina in Hamilton and visited Hobbiton near Matamata.
The last contact the couple had with family was via email on September 8.
However, during their journey they crossed paths, particularly in Haast, with many people who had relayed how happy and polite they were, Hayes said. ". . . and this is where the story turns bad."
Hayes and his youngest daughter Siobhan, 21, were leaving Ghana, Africa when they learned at the airport check-in that Connor was missing.
After speaking with his wife and police he decided against flying to New Zealand immediately and instead flew home to Canada to be with his devastated family.
"Right off the get-go they [police] told me ‘this is bleak'."
The past fortnight had been heart-breaking as he realised he would probably never see or hear from his son again.
"The time he needed help the most [I wasn't] there. It's awful," Hayes said.
"It's worse when you see the people around you and love just crumble and there's nothing you can do about it.
"I was upset because I had started to lose his [Connor's] voice."
Hayes described his son as a popular, intelligent young man who was gifted at sport, including basketball, ice hockey and running. He completed his first marathon in May.
He was competitive and intense, but calm under pressure.
The year he finished high school he was named athlete of the year. He later graduated from Queens University in Kingston. Before travelling to New Zealand he worked two jobs and voluntarily counselled victims of crime.
"I'm blessed to have had a son like Connor," Hayes said.
"He was a beautiful kid and he lived his life the way you want your kids to live their lives.
"He's everything we could have asked for."
Connor met Joanna about two years ago while they were living in the same apartment building in Ottawa, Ontario.
They were destined to get married and have children, Hayes said.
"They were real, real happy. They were both strong, nice people on their own, and then when they were together it just sort of magnified.
"They were the type of couple that if you looked at them . . . you'd sort of go: ‘That's the way young couples should be'," he said.
Hayes and his wife, Lorraine Tetreault, Connor's step-mother, are due to arrive in New Zealand late on Tuesday night.
They plan to travel to Haast the next day and hope volunteers will rally again to search.
"I think it's irrelevant what I think our chances are [of finding Connor].
"We're pretty sure . . . we'll be able to come back to Canada with some closure."
COLLEAGUES SEEK CASH TO RETURN BODY
On the eve of what would have been her 25th birthday, Joanna Lam's Canadian workplace has launched a campaign to bring her body home.
The vehicle Lam and boyfriend Connor Hayes were in was hit by a slip and plunged into the Haast River this month. Hayes' body has not been found.
Ottawa Hospital, where Lam, 24, worked as a sonographer before taking a leave of absence to travel and work abroad, are now trying to raise funds to bring her body home.
On their Facebook page, the hospital pays tribute to her "professionalism, personality and wonderful smile" and appeals to the public to donate to the Joanna Lam Memorial Fund.
Her brother, Jeffrey Lam, yesterday told The Press his sister's "co-workers and colleagues reached out together and have really started this initiative on their own". The family would not be exploring fundraising options themselves.
Any money raised over the amount needed to send the body would be donated to the Haast community or Land Search and Rescue volunteers.
"We're floored by the amount of goodwill from people," Jeffrey Lam said.
The Lam family were making preparations to bring the body home, but were still hoping that Hayes' and Lam's bodies could be returned to Canada together.
"We're just faced with this overwhelming process of bringing Joanna home, both logistically and financially," he said.
Today would have been Lam's 25th birthday and it had been a "tough day for all of us".
- © Fairfax NZ News