Historian's death 'guts' coasters


The death of West Coast historian Les Wright has shocked many Coasters, who today praised him for his contribution to the region's history.

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said today that he was ''gutted'' to hear of his friend's death.

Wright had been missing in the King Country since Monday. His body was found today.

Kokshoorn met Wright, 63, in the 1970s and they swiftly became friends, sharing a love of mining history.

In the past few months, Wright had started work on a mining heritage trail project with Kokshoorn, documenting mining history in the Nine Mile area north of Greymouth that had 14 old coalmines within a 20-minute walk.

''His whole life was about heritage, particularly mining,'' Kokshoorn said.

''I'm gutted. He's such a nice guy. He was a really popular person and he will be really missed.''

He said Wright, a passionate environmentalist, wrote many books on history and had about three or four books on the go.

Two years ago, Kokshoorn bought Wright's West of the Alps publication, ''but somehow we could never get it going quite as well as him''.

West Coast-Tasman Labour MP Damien O'Connor, who had known Wright for about 25 years, said Wright was a ''stalwart'' of West Coast heritage and history.

''The development of heritage tourism was based very much on what he did,'' he said.

''He will leave a huge gap in heritage and history knowledge in our region but leaves with us a large number of publications by which we will remember him.''

Wright's body was found in bush about 5 kilometres from where his car had been found, Sergeant Phil Bell, of the Waikato Search and Rescue Squad, said.

"It is anticipated that it will take about two hours to recover Mr Wright's body from where he was found,'' he said.

"Members of Mr Wright's family present at the operational base have addressed assembled search members to express their gratitude for all the efforts taken on their behalf and explained his love for the bush and passion for the environment."

Friends of Waiuta chairwoman Frances Hunter, of Reefton, said Wright had been involved for nearly 30 years with the group, which promoted the tiny mining township and its history.

He had written its newsletters since the incorporated society's inception in 1985, the last one posted out to members on Monday, the day he disappeared.

''The West Coast has lost a man that had the most brilliant knowledge of the history of gold mining towns, like Lyall and Waiuta, and historic sites, not just on the West Coast,'' Hunter said.

About five or six years ago, he broke a leg while tramping on a track near Waiuta, called the Snowy Battery, but quickly summoned help by activating his personal locator beacon.

Within a few hours, he was in hospital.

''We always chucked off to him that he could go off anywhere and anytime and he'd be fine.''

She said she had been clinging to hopes her long-time friend would survive once she heard he was missing because he was so experienced in the bush and very fit.

''The bush and Les were never enemies. He always respected it.

''We've lost an incredibly great friend.''