New Zealand police announced last week that they are scaling back their search for missing Queen’s alumnus Connor Hayes.
Hayes, who graduated from Queen’s in 2010, travelled to New Zealand from South America alongside his girlfriend Joanna Lam, 24, to help her settle down prior to her new hospital placement in the country.
On Sept. 15, Hayes’ family was informed that his car had been swept off a mountain road in New Zealand, and into a river 80 km below.
On Sept. 19, Lam’s body was recovered, but Hayes’ has yet to be found.
Nearly three weeks later, the family remains hopeful he’ll be found alive.
“The search doesn’t end here, it will keep going on and nobody is giving up yet,” Hayes’ sister, Siobhan, told the Journal.
Hayes, who Siobhan described as “selfless and caring”, is one of four siblings in the family. An avid athlete, Connor dabbled in the Equestrian Club, mixed martial arts and also worked as a soccer supervisor while at Queen’s.
Adventurous yet responsible, Connor travelled to New Zealand to “live the dream,” Siobhan, ArtSci ’13, said her brother told their mother prior to his departure.
“He was the [sibling] who had his life most together,” she said. “He graduated completely debt-free, he paid off everything because he worked through university and was extremely good with his money.
“He fell in love and had this girlfriend that, who knows, someday he might have married.”
Siobhan recalled when she first came to Queen’s, how her brother left a party to find her after getting lost near campus.
“I was scared and I was crying and [he] was having a huge party, and he left the party and left all of his friends to come find me and lead me back to his house,” she said. “He was always so willing to help.”
Hayes, originally from Ottawa, was travelling on a remote portion of Fox Glacier, on the South Island of New Zealand near the village of Haas, when a mudslide swept the couple’s rented van off the windy path.
The riverbed, which had risen six metres the day of the accident, had carried Lam’s body, as well as the vehicle’s gas tank, 50 km down the beach where they were discovered by authorities.
The search for Hayes, originally determined as a search and rescue, has been reclassified as a search and recover attempt, Siobhan said.
The search, which has utilized ATVs, helicopters, divers, search dogs and horses, has yet to uncover clues as to where his body may be located. Over 50 local residents from Haas, a village of approximately 300 people, continue to rally in search for Hayes.
“Connor is a fighter, but at the same time circumstances are against him,” Siobhan said. “Right now we’re trying to bring him back home one way or another.”
Siobhan, who was on an internship placement in Ghana for Queen’s Project on International Development when the incident occurred, travelled back home to Canada while her father and step-mother travelled to New Zealand in search of the 25 year old.
She said weather conditions in the area have rendered a search attempt too dangerous to yield results.
“Every variety of search form you can imagine has been used … [but], because of the force of the water, their search expanse is huge.”
She added the Hayes family is staying strong, although each of them is dealing with the circumstance differently.
“At least they were together and doing something they loved [when it happened],” she said through tears.
“At least it wasn’t a car accident on the 401 in Toronto. At least he was having the opportunity to do something that he loved with the person that he loved, but obviously it ended too soon.”
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