Brothers crushed to death by glacier fall

By Kathy Marks, Asia-Pacific Correspondent
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The Independent Online

It may have been youthful high spirits, or the awesome beauty of New Zealand’s Fox Glacier, that spurred brothers Ashish and Akshay Miranda to cross a safety barrier to take photographs. Moments later, the two Australians were dead, crushed beneath 100 tons of ice and rubble.

Tonight, more than 24 hours after an ice shelf collapsed, showering the brothers with rocks the size of large vehicles, the body of 22-year-old Akshay had yet to be pulled out. Conditions were too dangerous for rescuers to remain at the base of the glacier, where they retrieved the body of 24-year-old Ashish on Thursday.

Fox Glacier, on the west coast of the South Island, is one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist attractions, visited by up to 1,000 people a day in summer. The victims were on holiday with their parents, Ronnie and Winnie Miranda, who watched in horror as their only children were buried before their eyes.

Fox, and neighbouring Franz Josef, at the foot of the Southern Alps, are among the world’s most accessible glaciers. But while tourists flock there to admire the views and go trekking, the ice is notoriously unstable, particularly after severe storms or a heatwave. The Department of Conservation says nearly one-third of visitors ignore warning signs and enter off-limits areas. Tim Groser, New Zealand’s Conservation Minister, said: “We’re dealing with a situation that is a highly dangerous and dynamic natural environment involving rock, ice and rivers.” He added: “To lose both your sons in a single instant is a tragedy of almost unimaginable proportions”.

The Mirandas remain in Fox Glacier township, waiting for Akshay’s body. Police said it was not clear when, or if, the search would resume. Ashish, an aerospace engineer, worked for Boeing. Akshay, an engineering student, was to complete his studies this year. Last Sunday, Akshay performed a 134m bungee jump, he excitedly informed friends in the last entry on his Facebook site. The family, Indian-born immigrants who live in Melbourne, had been due to fly home tomorrow.

Jo Macpherson, the DoC area manager, said Akshay’s body was believed to be trapped at the base of the glacier. “It’s very dangerous still,” she said. “There is no way the police will put anybody on the ground under the ice shelf the way it’s looking at the moment.”