New Zealand search for Ottawa couple now recovery mission

Police in New Zealand say the likelihood of finding Ottawa couple Joanna Lam and Connor Hayes alive is "extremely remote" after searching the Haast River for two days.

Joanna Lam, 24, Connor Hayes, 25, last seen on South Island Fox Glacier on Sept. 10

Joanna Lam, 24, and Connor Hayes, 25, haven't been seen or heard from since they were spotted in a park on New Zealand's South Island on Sept. 10. (Facebook)

Police teams in New Zealand have spent two days searching the Haast River for Ottawa couple Joanna Lam and Connor Hayes, but say the chance of finding them alive is "extremely remote."

Lam, 24, and Hayes, 25, were last seen at Fox Glacier on the afternoon of Sept. 10, according to police.

Police search teams, including a specialist search dog and heat-seeking helicopter, were out Wednesday looking for missing couple Joanna Lam and Connor Hayes. (New Zealand Police)

On Tuesday, officers found parts of their wrecked rental van in a gorge in a remote park on the South Island.

They heightened their search Wednesday with a heat-seeking helicopter and a specialist search dog, in addition to a search and rescue boat.

In a statement, Insp. John Canning said police have now declared the search a recovery mission.

"Weather permitting, we will continue searching until we have exhausted all reasonable possibility of finding these people," the statement read.

The search has been limited by "deteriorating" weather, it added, but police did find more debris from the wrecked van. 

Also on Tuesday, wheels and the chassis were located about 80 metres down a bluff in the Haast River. The van's body and engine have not yet been located.

Police don't yet know whether Lam and Hayes were inside the vehicle when it left the road.

Vehicle swept away in flood, police say

New Zealand police have said the van was likely swept away in fast-moving floodwaters, as the area where it was found experienced a bad storm more than a week ago.

The chassis of the missing couple's wrecked rental van was found on Tuesday in the Haast River gorge. (New Zealand Police)

Ceinwen Curtis, a reporter with Radio New Zealand in Christchurch who is covering the search, has also said there have been a number of landslides at that mountain pass close to where the couple's vehicle was found.

She said boulders as big as houses remain on the road, a week after the storm.

A friend told CBC News earlier this week Lam failed to show up at her new job as a medical imaging specialist for a radiology department in New Zealand on Monday.

Tamara Sagadore said Lam and Hayes have been dating for almost two years after meeting and living together in Ottawa.

Hayes, whose family is from the Toronto area, was said to be passionate about running. Lam grew up in Kingston, Ont., where her family still lives.


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