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New Zealand police hope discovery of remains brings 'closure' to missing Ottawa man's family

Aedan Helmer, Multimedia Journalist
Ottawa Sun

By Aedan Helmer, Ottawa Sun

Joanna Lam, 24 of Ottawa, and her boyfriend Connor Hayes, 25, have been reported missing in New Zealand. Parts of their vehicle were found in a river, in a ravine, in the remote Haast Pass.

Joanna Lam, 24 of Ottawa, and her boyfriend Connor Hayes, 25, have been reported missing in New Zealand. Parts of their vehicle were found in a river, in a ravine, in the remote Haast Pass.

New Zealand police are hoping the discovery of human remains and personal items will bring some “closure” to an Ottawa family grieving the loss of their son.

Connor Hayes, 25, and his girlfriend Joanna Lam of Kingston, were killed in September 2013 while vacationing in New Zealand, when the camper van they were travelling in on the South Island was swept off the highway in a landslide and into the Haast River.

Police discovered Lam’s body, but Hayes’ body was never found.

Father Mike Hayes described the three-year ordeal as “a kick in the gut” in an interview Wednesday.

In August, a hunter found a human thigh bone at the confluence of the Kaast and Burke rivers, and according to West Coast area commander Insp. Mel Aitken, a DNA analysis confirmed the bones belonged to Hayes.

Police then organized a 27-member search party on Sunday including volunteers from the Haast area, who combed a 10-kilometre stretch of the river on foot, with the aid of a helicopter and jet boat.

The search party recovered “a number of items of interest” from the river bed, and found 15 bones from the area where the leg bone was discovered. The area is believed to be about five kilometres downstream from the spot the van was swept into the river.

Police have not yet confirmed if the remains belong to Hayes, though they said anything believed to belong to Hayes “will be released to his family in Canada in due course.”

Aitken thanked everyone involved in the search effort, “in the hope of providing some closure to his family back home.”

“As a parent, I’m very happy that Connor has been found and we’ve expressed our thanks to the search and rescue guys,” said Mike Hayes, a retired teacher.

He said he received a message Sunday from New Zealand police indicating the bone found in August was a DNA match for his son.

“It’s been a bit of a kick in the gut, really,” he said, just over three years after he travelled to a remote corner of New Zealand to search for his own son. “When I went and looked for him and didn’t find any trace, I thought that was it.”

He was unsure whether another funeral would be held for Connor in Canada but predicted it would be a private affair.

“For me, I thought we’d said our goodbyes in the church in Haast and the memorial we had (in Ottawa).”

There may be “moving on” but there is no getting over it, he said. “It’s an ache that’s there every morning. I miss Connor every day.”

— With files from Kelly Egan

 

ahelmer@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/helmera