Tragedies spoil festive mood for some

The festive season is a happy time for most families but, for others, it's a time for grieving after the tragic deaths of loved ones in the preceding days, weeks and months.

The south has more than its share of grieving families this holiday season, with the motorbike death of 16-year-old Owaka youth Rowan Parker in the Chaslands on Boxing Day coming just hours after Invercargill 24-year-old Shane Curtis Tosh crashed his car north of the city and ended up in a paddock, dying of his injuries.

Among other deaths in the south in recent weeks, Nightcaps shearer and father of five Michael Gray lost his life when the work van he was a passenger in crashed into a power pole south of Mossburn on December 13.

And tragedy struck two motorcyclists travelling home after the Burt Munro Challenge when a car reportedly ploughed into them on the Lindis Pass on November 26.

Four days earlier, Southland real estate agent Stewart Bath died when a tractor he was driving on his sons' farm near Roxburgh toppled down a bank.

Also in November, elderly Riverton man Neville Squires was killed in a head-on car crash near Clinton and respected Queenstown helicopter pilot Julian Kramer was killed in a helicopter crash near Wanaka.

Tragedy struck two workers in Southland in October: 48-year-old Stuart Andrew Kenning was electrocuted while working on power lines near Mossburn, and Graham Robert Brown, 67, died while working to clear a landslip on the Milford Road.

Those deaths rocked families from Southland and other parts of New Zealand, but families overseas are also grieving after their loved ones perished in the region in recent weeks.

On Christmas Day, the body of German tramper Frank Spychalski was recovered from the Cascade Saddle area of Mt Aspiring National Park after he fell on snow the previous month and plunged over a ridge.

On December 22, the body of Italian Luca Ruffato was found in Brod Bay after the 22-year-old went missing while canoeing on Lake Te Anau.

And another Italian, Antonino Arillotta died when his parachute failed to open while he was skydiving near Wanaka on November 15.

A week before the skydiving tragedy, 23-year-old Argentinian Carolina Patron Costas was driving to work at the Millbrook Resort when her car left the road and hit a tree, killing her.

Those tragedies close to Christmas were just some of many during the year. The most devastating in 2012 was the Easy Rider sinking, which claimed eight lives in Foveaux Strait in March. The fishing boat, skippered by Rewai Karetai, was on the way to the Titi Islands when it was hit by a rogue wave and toppled over. Just one man on board, Dallas Reedy, survived.

It was a terrible year for boating disasters, with another six lives being lost in southern waters in three further sinkings; two were commercial fishing boats and one a private boat on a fishing trip in Foveaux Strait.

One of the most heartfelt deaths in the south this year was that of Mark Vanderley, accidentally shot and killed by his lifelong mate Blair Davidson when they were on an alcohol-fuelled hunting trip with mates at Glenlapa station, northern Southland, in April.

The raw emotions surrounding the tragedy resurfaced this month, just one week before Christmas, when Davidson was jailed after admitting to mistaking Mr Vanderley for a deer when he shot him.

The Southland Times