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New Zealand authorities have identified the body of a missing Israeli backpacker, one day after conservation officials discovered the man’s car next to a popular trailhead in Mount Cook National Park.

According to Rabbi Menachem Goldstein, the Canterbury-based director of Chabad-Lubavitch of New Zealand who has been acting as a liaison between local officials and the Israeli Embassy in Australia, the police in Israel are in the process of notifying the family of the man, aged in his 20’s. The man had been at the Chabad House last week and was expected to attend this week’s Friday night Shabbat services, a popular event for traveling Israelis.


Richard McNamara, a manager with the New Zealand Department of Conservation in the area of Mount Cook, told reporters that the backpacker likely fell off a cliff after wandering off of the trail near Mueller Glacier. An aerial search of the area on Tuesday located the man’s body resting on an outcropping of rock; it was extracted Wednesday morning and taken to a hospital in Canterbury.

“For whatever reason, [he] decided to go off the track and got himself into an area of danger and technical difficulty, and fell,” said McNamara. “It’s one of those unfortunate, tragic accidents [that] happens from time to time.”

According to the official, some 4,000 to 4,500 people use the trail each year. Local news reports said that an American died last year after straying from the same trail.

“He really wanted to be here before Shabbat,” said Nissan Zigman, an assistant manager at the Chabad House, about an hour and a half away from Mount Cook. “He was a very affable and nice guy. It was a pleasure to talk to him.”

Goldstein said that he’s working to prevent a routine autopsy, which Jewish law views in most cases as an unnecessary desecration of the body. In New Zealand, a victim’s family must lodge a formal complaint, but the final determination is up to the coroner.

“I’ve strongly advised the authorities against a post-mortem examination,” said Goldstein. “I told them it should be avoided if at all possible, especially since foul play is not suspected.”

The rabbi added that he and his staff are working to have the body transported back to Israel for burial before Shabbat.

“We’re devastated,” he said. “My heart goes out to his family and friends.”