Tramper died after falling down steep bluff

REX TAYLOR: It is believed he was doing volunteer track and hut maintenance when he fell over a bluff.
REX TAYLOR: It is believed he was doing volunteer track and hut maintenance when he fell over a bluff.

A Christchurch tramper missing in a remote West Coast area for eight weeks appears to have fallen to his death down a steep bluff.

Rex Leslie Taylor, 50, was reported missing by his family on November 6, prompting extensive searches, after he failed to return from a solo tramp in the Mikonui River area, south of Ross.

On Sunday afternoon, a private helicopter on an unrelated journey spotted a body lodged on a small ledge down a steep bluff near Kaka Creek, which flows into the Mikonui River.

West Coast police search and rescue coordinator Sergeant Sean Judd said he and a colleague were airlifted to the site this morning and recovered the body.

While he was confident it was Taylor, the body was taken to Christchurch for formal identification and autopsy.

The pair believed the fall would have been instantly fatal and estimated the drop was between 25m-40m.

''He has fallen a considerable distance but hadn’t reached the bottom. He’s become caught up on a little shelf.

''It’s incredibly steep country. A place you could easily take a tumble and die."

Taylor’s family was told on Sunday that a body had been found.

''I think it would be fair to say the family was relieved he had been located, and in particular Rex's elderly father [was]. One question that was on everyone's mind was of him being stuck somewhere and suffering.

''I am confident after today that this would not have been the case, one small positive to be able to pass onto family,’’ Judd said.

It was believed Taylor set out on his tramp on October 15 or 16.

His final entry in the Explorer Hut book on October 23 said he planned to head back to his vehicle in Totara Valley Rd, possibly via the Mikonui Spur Bivouac, and expected to be out by October 25.

Judd said search and rescue parties had found various items they believed were Taylor’s last month, including small bits of bedding roll the size of a fingernail.

Ground searches resumed last Monday and Tuesday but the search was later suspended when they failed to find anything else. He was satisfied searchers had successfully narrowed the target area to near where the body was found, an impressive feat in rugged terrain.

However, it would have been impossible for ground searchers to spot the body.

"It’s one of those things. You need a bit of an element of luck."

Taylor's family had previously told police it was not uncommon for him to spend weeks away tramping and they had been unsure when he had been due home where he lived alone.

He often headed into remote areas to do volunteer hut and track maintenance as a member of the online group Permolat.

Andrew Buglass, who set up the group in 2004 to care for remote huts and tracks, said Taylor’s sister emailed him on November 4, voicing fears her brother had failed to return home.

"I told her she should contact the police to get a search and rescue started."

Buglass, who only had email contact with Taylor and had never met him, suspected he had been checking an overgrown Forest Service track near the cliffs when he fell.

The Press