The first of two bodies recovered from the Makarora River by police in the Mount Aspiring National Park last weekend was named yesterday as 22-year-old Kevin Kum Fike Lee, who resided in Dunedin.
According to Police, the first body — a female who has yet to be named — was found by a member of the public at 5:15pm on Friday, February 7 about 50m upstream from the Makarora and Young rivers confluence, on the west side of the river. Lee’s body was found in the same area the following day at 12:30pm.
Police believe that the two people may have been tramping together. Work is ongoing to establish the circumstances of their deaths, however neither is being treated as suspicious.
This tragedy comes less than two weeks after two people were killed in a car crash near Makarora on January 30.
It also follows extreme weather and flooding in the region, which has resulted in the closure of 75 tracks from Fiordland to the southern end of Mount Aspiring National Park. Speaking on RNZ’s Morning Report last Monday, Department of Conservation’s South Island Manager Aaron Fleming said that, whilst he would not speculate on what may have happened to the two trampers, the area where they were found — which sees around 3,500 visitors every year — “does require some river crossings.”
Wonderland Makarora Lodge manager Michelle St John said the community was "pretty devastated.” The long-term resident added that she was surprised a tragedy had not happened sooner, after a DOC staff member was removed from the area's information centre several years ago, leaving Wānaka, over 60km away, as the nearest official information point.
In response, Aaron Fleming, Operations Director Southern South Island for DOC said, “The fatality of trampers in any part of New Zealand is always tragic and our hearts go out to the bereaved families and friends. However it is important to note that at this point there are no details about the causes of death for the two people found deceased or the reason a third person is currently being looked for. We simply cannot know whether any information that might have been provided at Makarora would have made any difference and speculation about it is not helpful at this time.”
Since the site closed as a manned Visitor Centre, DOC has maintained static information within the unstaffed Makarora Visitor Centre.
Mike Daisley, Mountain Safety Council chief executive, added, “deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the deceased.” He added that “we don’t yet know exactly what happened to them, but we do know rivers can be dangerous.”
River crossings are the second highest direct cause of tramper fatalities. Daisley advise that information on river safety can be found on the MSC website at: https://mountainsafety.org.nz/resources/toolbox/river-safety