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Body found in rugged terrain

Believed to be missing Israeli tourist

Last updated 23:25 16/05/2008
Liat Okin
Itamar Tas

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An autopsy and forensic examination will be carried out today on the body found in rugged terrain off the Routeburn Track yesterday, near where Israeli tourist Liat Okin's backpack was found on Thursday.

Acting Otago Rural area commander Inspector Andrew Burns said the body was found in a difficult spot to access, in steep, rocky and dense bush up to 1km off the Routeburn Track.

"It was not close to the track ... between 600 metres and 1km in one direction (off the Routeburn Track) and between 1km and 2km in another direction (off the track).

Police could not confirm it was Ms Okin's body until formal identification had been carried out.

The body was flown to Queenstown by helicopter late yesterday before being transported to Dunedin by road for an autopsy today, Mr Burns said.

A full forensic examination, including dental records and possibly DNA testing, might be necessary but police hoped to formally identify the body today.

A private search launched on April 24 by Ms Okin's brother, Itamar Tas, was about to be called off on Thursday when Ms Okin's backpack, shoes and other items belonging to the missing 35-year-old social worker were found about 2.30pm.

They were located close to where the body was found by police searchers shortly after 1pm yesterday.

Police were notified about the items on Thursday night after private searchers came out of the bush and eight police searchers flew into the area yesterday morning.

Ms Okin was last seen leaving the Mackenzie Hut on the track early on March 26.

Police and search and rescue volunteers searched extensively for just over a fortnight from April 8, finding no trace of Ms Okin.

A desperate Mr Tas launched the private search, costing upwards of $100,000, after refusing to give up hope of finding his sister.

Mr Burns said police were grateful to the team of 12 private searchers, including four women, who were assisted by search dogs.

"They came across (the items) in very dense bush. We're very thankful they came across it; it gave us a point to work from," Mr Burns said.

"From our perspective, we real-ly appreciate what the private searchers have done.

"They were preparing to call it quits this week." Mr Tas, 26, who flew into Queenstown on April 11 with his best friend Joe Kariv, was still trying to absorb the shock of yesterday's find.

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Mr Kariv said last night the news had been "very, very difficult" for Mr Tas.

"As you can appreciate, it's not an easy time," Mr Kariv said.

The Tas family were devastated and would not be commenting further until the body had been formally identified, he said.

Ms Okin's distraught parents would not be travelling out to New Zealand.

Meanwhile, two Christchurch-based Jewish rabbis who spent most of April in Queenstown supporting Mr Tas, flew into the resort last night upon receiving the news.

"My mind was blank — it went blank," Rabbi Mendel Goldstein said.

"We were hoping for her to be found alive and in recent weeks we were hoping for a miracle," Rabbi Goldstein said.

"I feel very bad for the family. My heart goes out to them ... although it does bring closure," he said.

 

- The Southland Times

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