Fears growing for Israeli missing in New Zealand

By Dan Goldberg, April 18, 2008

Fears are escalating for the life of an Israeli backpacker missing in New Zealand for the last three weeks.

Liat Okin, 35, was last spotted walking alone on March 26 on the 35km Routeburn Track, a three-day trek near Queenstown on the South Island.

The alarm was raised when she failed to collect her passport, money and belongings from a friend’s place or to call her parents.

Her brother, Itamar, and Hilik Magnus, one of Israel’s most renowned search-and-rescue personnel, arrived in New Zealand over the weekend to aid the rescue mission.

But efforts by about 15 searchers on land and in the air were suspended on Monday due to bad weather.

Mendel Goldstein and Oren Raz, two Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis from nearby Canterbury, and the Israeli consul from the nearest embassy — in Canberra, Australia — flew in to aid the rescue efforts last week.

Rabbi Goldstein told the JC: “We will be here until we find her. My wife and two kids are flying in to spend Pesach here with Liat and her brother. Even yesterday, the search continued despite the weather. Her brother is very, very optimistic.”

Itamar told local media he was confident his sister could still be alive.

“It is so stressful for my parents but we’re all trying to be positive because we’re believing she’s fine, we’re worried of course that she’s not in the best condition, but we’re all believing we’re going to see her again.”

The family is from Moshav Netiv Asara, which is 50 metres from Gaza. “My family is also getting Kassam rockets from Gaza. After the withdrawal from Gaza [in 2005], we are now the front line,” he added.

Mr Magnus, who left a rescue mission in India to help the search for Okin, added: “We will go and find out as much as we can.

In 1987, two Israelis were believed to have died on the Routeburn Track, but Udi and Nitzan Milo survived for five nights on a narrow ledge after they fell.

However, an Englishman died on the trek in 2006.

    Last updated: 5:10pm, May 13 2008