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Pair killed in avalanche ignored warnings

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 2/03/2016

Two Canadian men killed in a Fiordland National Park avalanche ignored repeated warnings to not continue with their hike, a coroner has found.

Louis-Vincent Lessard and Etienne Lemieux, both 23, were killed after being swept more than 300 metres by snow from the Kepler Track where they were walking in July last year.

In a new report, Coroner David Crerar said the two students from Quebec had been warned by numerous people to avoid going on the track in winter due to the risk.

Among them, a service station operator, Diane Holmes, had told the men weather would be bad on the track, but they replied they were used to worse in Canada, the inquest heard.

A Department of Conservation ranger, Karin Dougherty-Van Amerongen, said she had told them the track could not be done due to known avalanche risks and pointed them to alternative paths.

"Despite these direct interventions, the pair decided, for reasons unknown, to continue to try to complete the Kepler Track," the Mountain Safety Council's report said.

The coroner found the men had not been carrying transceivers, shovels or probes, all of which are mandatory for alpine travel.

They also failed to bring ice axes, crampons and a locator beacon, appeared to have no New Zealand alpine experience, and ignored written warning signs at the track's entrance as well.

"In common with a number of visitors to New Zealand who lose their lives in what we term the `back country', Etienne Lemieux and Louis-Vincent Lessard underestimated the hazards which they encountered," Mr Crerar said.

Mr Lemieux's parent's in their submission asked why the track had not been closed, but DOC said they did not have the power to restrict or close national parks under the law, except for special circumstances, such as clearing rocks.

Mr Crerar concluded none of DOC's employees had breached their obligations, but recommended an increased focus on avalanche safety at visitor centres and the introduction of security cameras to track interactions between staff and visitors.

He also suggested DOC install signage on the Kepler Track identifying areas of specific avalanche risk.

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