Family's hope for missing hunter

FAMILY MAN: Corey Stephens, pictured with wife Elle and daughter Koriniti, is still missing in rugged West Coast country.
FAMILY MAN: Corey Stephens, pictured with wife Elle and daughter Koriniti, is still missing in rugged West Coast country.

The search for a missing West Coast hunter has been put on hold, but his family plan to keep searching.

Corey Aaron Stephens, 35, did not return as expected last Friday from a week-long solo hunting trip.

Since Sunday, police have been searching the Wanganui River catchment near Hari Hari. Yesterday the search was scaled back to the lower stretches of the river but it has now been put on hold until conditions improve.

Corey Stephens was well-equipped for the trip, police said, including hiring a personal locator beacon which had not been activated.

His brother, Nigel Stephens, flew in from Australia once he heard his brother was missing.

Despite the police searching being put on hold, Nigel Stephens said he and two friends would go out tomorrow to continue searching on their own.

"It might be a bit in vain, but we'll do it anyway," he said.

Corey Stephens, formerly from Invercargill, lived in Hokitika with wife Elle and 8-month-old daughter Koriniti.

"He is a bit of a MacGyver type. He can come out of any or most situations," Nigel Stephens said.

Corey possessed a great array of outdoor skills and if anyone could survive the wilderness, rain and sub zero temperatures it would be him, he said.

The search for Corey Stephens so far has failed to locate any sign of him except for two personal items found in the swollen river.

One was a tarpaulin and the other was a distinctive hat.

"He loved hunting and fishing and is an exceptional fly-fisherman. He is very good around rivers," he said.

Nigel Stephens said the hardest part for the family was not having any closure.

The brothers had grown up in Invercargill before their lives took them in different directions.

"Corey met his future wife on the West Coast and they made a life together in a place they both loved," Nigel Stephens said. "They've had their baby on the West Coast. They have their whole life up there."

The family were understanding about why the search had been scaled back.

"So many volunteers have given up their time and searched high and low," Nigel Stephens said.

"A kayak team was helicoptered in to search the river and a team of mountain goat men were also helicoptered in to search the area."

Police said the search that included helicopters and tracking dogs had scoured the valley and a swift water rescue team had been deployed on the main Wanganui River. Teams had walked tracks on both sides of the river.

The Southland Times