Dad set for tough time

Inquest into son's death to reveal new details

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 07:57 20/02/2014
michael hayes
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LOVED FAMILY MEMBER: Connor Hayes (middle) with his brother Lliam and father Michael.

Connor Hayes and Joanna Lam
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LOVED ONES LOST: Canadian couple Connor Hayes and Joanna Lam lost their lives in the Haast River gorge in September.

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Anguished Dad seeks family closure Canadian couple killed by slip

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The father of a Canadian tourist killed by a slip while traveling to Nelson is preparing for new and upsetting revelations about the accident in the Coroner's Court today.

Michael Hayes has not been able to hold a funeral for his son, Connor, 25, in the Catholic Church because his body has not been found since the accident last September.

Connor was killed with his partner, Joanna Lam, 24, during a storm on the West Coast on September 10.

No-one knew the pair were missing for six days until Lam failed to start her new job at Nelson Hosptial.

On September 17 police found their rented van wrapped around a boulder in the Haast River. Lam's body was located three days later.

The  first of two inquests will be held in the Greymouth District Court today.Michael Hayes, speaking from his home in Ottawa, said he had seen the findings of a police investigation into the accident.

They would be discussed alongside  witness evidence at today's hearing.Hayes said the evidence suggested the pair had tried unsuccessfully to turn back to Haast but their exit was blocked by a slip.

The family felt that more could have been done to prevent the pair's deaths.

Motorists using the Haast Pass that day have described dreadful driving conditions with tree debris and water rushing across roads.

Hayes said it had been hard enough losing a treasured son but their ''best case scenario'' was that the slip took them quickly.

However, the reports painted ''a pretty grim picture of two people in trouble'' and they had likely spent many minutes trying to escape the treacherous pass before their deaths, he said.

The Catholic Church had refused to allow his family to organise a funeral without the body.

''I didn't know that until I went to ask the church about the funeral.''

Hayes said it was awful for his family that his son's body had never been recovered but expected today's  hearing would officially certify his death.

A memorial service was held in Haast for the pair in October and the families had placed a memorial headstone for the pair, using a rock from Haast River, at the township's Okuru cemetery.

Lam's family held a funeral for her in Canada and another memorial service for Hayes was held last November in Ottawa, followed by a mass for him on December 8.Hayes said he was having a tough time coping with his son's death on the other side of the world.

''I miss Connor a lot ... I've lost one of my best friends.''

Connor had a brother and two sisters plus a stepbrother and stepsister.

''Everyone misses Connor,'' he said.

West Coast area commander Inspector John Canning said police could not comment until the coroner had determined the facts of the case.

New Zealand Transport Agency's Canterbury/West Coast Highway Manager, Colin Knaggs, said all issues related to the event would be considered as part of the coronial hearings so was inappropriate for it to comment.

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''Our thoughts are with the families during this difficult time.

- Nelson

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