Search for Missing Canadian Hikers in New Zealand Uncovers Two Bodies in Avalanche Debris

Louis-Vincent Lessard and Étienne Lemieux, both 23 and from Quebec, have been missing since July 6, when they left a Queensland hostel and took a bus to Te Anau, a town known as “the gateway to the fiords."

by Hilary Beaumont
Jul 27 2015, 3:40pm

Photo via Facebook

New Zealand authorities searching for two missing Canadian university students say they have found a second body in the rubble of an avalanche. The remains have yet to be positively identified, but police have notified the families of the two men, and supporters offered their condolences on Facebook following news of the second discovery.

Louis-Vincent Lessard and Étienne Lemieux, both 23 and from Quebec, have been missing since July 6, when they left the Base Backpacking Hostel in Queensland and took a bus to Te Anau, a town known as "the gateway to the fiords." On Saturday, family members reported them missing after they missed their flights back home to Montréal.

A police spokesperson told the New Zealand Herald authorities will work with Canadian officials to complete the formal identification process as quickly as possible. The official was unaware of any other people reported missing on the trail.

The first body was found over the weekend in avalanche debris, CBC reported, and the second was found Monday morning.

Lessard and Lemieux were studying industrial design at the Université de Montréal, according to a Facebook page dedicated to searching for them. They were adventuring in New Zealand and planned to walk the Kepler Track, a mountainous trail featuring waterfalls, deep valleys, and limestone caves.

Photo of Lessard and Lemieux the night before they went missing via Facebook

A notification on the New Zealand government website said walking the 37-mile, four-day-long track between April 30 and October 26 this year "should only be attempted by fit, experienced and well-equipped people" due to additional safety hazards, including the risk of avalanches, and because there are no rangers or emergency radio facilities during this time of year.

The alpine section of the track is currently snow-covered and the government warns of tree falls along the trail. Sergeant Ian Martin, a local search-and-rescue coordinator for New Zealand police, told CBC the snow was especially deep three weeks ago where Lessard and Lemieux were hiking.

Lessard worked at the outdoor sports store Boutique de Yeti in Montreal. His coworker Dominic Denault Pilon told the New Zealand Herald he had bought mountaineering gear before leaving for his trip. Pilon described the young man as "really adventurous," and a guy who enjoyed skiing, hiking and cycling. The sports store posted condolences to the two men's families on its Facebook page Monday morning.

People in New Zealand also offered condolences to the families.

"Here in New Zealand there are many of us who are just wishing we could do more for the families of these men who are so far away," Estelle Courtney wrote on the Facebook page dedicated to searching for the students. "With heartfelt concern we most definitely do offer our support in any way possible in such a difficult, heartbreaking time as we wait for more information."

A photo on the Facebook page showed the two men smiling while sitting with two women on the night of July 6.

"We have followed the news here in New Zealand since news was broadcast [that] these two young [men] were missing," Steve Mahoney wrote. "Sending love and light to both men's families."

Photo of Kepler Track by Nomad Tales via Wikimedia Commons 

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont