Tramper's funeral the final sad duty for searchers

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:00 09/01/2014

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British tramper Andrew Wyatt died alone in Nelson's back country wilderness, and was farewelled yesterday by the searchers who found and recovered his body.

At the same time Mr Wyatt's committal service was being held in the chapel at Gardens of the World in Hope, his grieving parents in England, Donald and Lorna Wyatt, farewelled their son at their home in Penryn, Cornwall with a recital of the 23rd Psalm.

Earlier in the day they had spent time in a local cathedral, praying and lighting candles in remembrance of the second tragedy in their lives. They lost their other son, Duncan, on December 16 three years ago.

Donald Wyatt said this week that if he and Lorna were "a bit younger", they would have travelled to New Zealand as soon as they could. They were finding the situation almost unbearable, but took some comfort in knowing that Andrew loved New Zealand and had been doing something he loved.

"They have asked for the psalm to be included in today's service. They are not here with us but they are here with us in spirit," said Major Ian Knight of the Salvation Army, who conducted the service.

About 20 people, including members of the Land Search and Rescue (LandSar) team that found Mr Wyatt's body, police, a tramper who was among the last people to speak with him, and Te Araroa Trail founder Geoff Chapple, attended the service.

Mr Wyatt, 41, was last seen on December 15, when he left Blue Lake Hut in Nelson Lakes National Park.

Police were alerted that the fastidious adventure traveller, whose sojourns had included cycling across Australia's Nullarbor Plain, was missing after he failed to pick up a food package as planned from Boyle Village in Lewis Pass.

His route from Blue Lake Hut was over the Waiau Pass, described as one of the trickiest sections of Te Araroa, through rocky and exposed country with steep drops.

His body was found on December 27 below Lake Constance Bluff. The huge fall down an almost sheer cliff was unsurvivable.

Locating and retrieving his body took the efforts of an expert alpine search team.

Mr Chapple made special mention of the efforts of the LandSar team. "They did a wonderful job in difficult circumstances," he said.

Fellow tramper Timothy Pitt, of Folkestone in Kent, England, who saw Mr Wyatt at the Travers-Sabine Lodge in St Arnaud shortly before his death, said he was "baffled" as to how he might have fallen."The trail is not that close to the cliff."

Mr Pitt said he did not think Mr Wyatt was carrying a camera, so it was unlikely that he was taking photos near the cliff edge. Nor, for reasons he could not explain, would he allow Mr Pitt to take his photo at the lodge.

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Constable Dave Cogger, who co-ordinated the search, said the circumstances of the death would be up to the coroner to decide. He said Mr Wyatt was on the track and was sure-footed and stable, but appeared to have stumbled in unforgiving terrain.

Mr Cogger, who has been praised by the Wyatts in England for the way he handled the search, said it had been particularly difficult because of the alpine terrain. It had initially been made harder by bad weather.

"We picked the cream of the cream to help, because of the complexity of the terrain. It's a credit to the team that Mr Wyatt was found in our first area of interest," Mr Cogger said outside the service.

Mr Chapple, supported by his wife Miriam Beatson, said the New Zealand outdoors was some of the most beautiful country in the world, but it was also dangerous. Anyone tackling it put themselves at risk, but Mr Wyatt would remain as part of the spirit of Te Araroa. His death was the first fatality on the trail.

Mr Chapple credited Mr Wyatt, a radiographer who specialised in the clinical treatment of cancer, for dedicating his life to doing good things.

"It's a tremendous loss. Walkers have sent their prayers and blessings.

"I've given many speeches [about the trail] but this one is hard, and sad," Mr Chapple said.

Mr Wyatt was cremated yesterday. It was possible that his ashes would be scattered at Blue Lake Hut by a family friend who was due to arrive in New Zealand later this month, Marsden House funeral director Lyndsay Pyers said.

- Nelson

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