NEWS

New Zealand police believe bodies of Louis-Vincent Lessard, Étienne Lemieux found

07/27/2015 06:26 EDT | Updated 07/27/2016 05:59 EDT
Police in New Zealand believe two bodies found in avalanche debris belong to Louis-Vincent Lessard and Étienne Lemieux, two Quebec travellers who were on vacation when they went missing.

The two 23-year-old men were supposed to come home to Montreal on Friday, but when they missed their flights leaving New Zealand, their families contacted police.

The first body was found over the weekend in a field of avalanche debris about 350 metres below the Kepler track, where the two had planned to hike. A second body was discovered Monday at about 10:30 am, New Zealand time.

Sgt. Ian Martin, the local search and rescue coordinator for the New Zealand police, said snow was particularly deep three weeks ago where the two would have been hiking.

"The majority of people who walk the Kepler track do it in summer and there's seldom any snow. Totally different story in winter, when large volumes of snow can fall in that area. Not many people at all walk the Kepler track in winter," he said.

Neither body has been formally identified, but Martin says police believe they are those of the two hikers, as there were no other people reported missing in the area.

Lessard and Lemieux's families have been notified.

According to Scott Yeoman, a journalist at the New Zealand Herald, police found the first, male body during an aerial search of the Fiordland National Park on Sunday.

On Saturday, New Zealand police said Lemieux and Lessard — both 23 — were last seen July 7 (July 6 in eastern Canada time) at their hostel, the Base Backpacking Hostel in Queenstown.

They had checked in the night before and had booked just one night in the hostel.

Harsh weather on Kepler Track

The pair of Université de Montréal students had bought bus tickets to Lake Te Anau scheduled to depart early on July 7, New Zealand time. Kelly Larsen of New Zealand police in Queenstown said witnesses told police the two young men had talked about plans to trek the Kepler Track, which she said is usually about a four-day walk through the mountains.

Larsen said most trails in New Zealand are self-guided.

The two young men had travelled to New Zealand on an outdoor adventure trip.

Lessard, who works at Montreal outdoor gear shop Le Boutique Yeti, had purchased some mountaineering equipment ahead of his trip, according to co-worker Dominic Denault Pilon.

Many photos on Lessard's Facebook page show him mountain biking, snowboarding and doing other outdoor activities.

"He was really, really nice. Really adventurous, really intelligent. He was actually somebody who enjoyed doing outdoor activities — skiing, hiking, cycling," Pilon said.

Another co-worker, Hugo Brunet, said Lessard truly loved the outdoors.

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