Mt Ruapehu tragedy: Family disappointed they can't fix son's misspelt name on memorial plaque

  It will be 32 years on Saturday since one of New Zealand's worst ­alpine tragedies unfolded on Mount Ruapehu.

Thirteen young men went up the North Island's tallest mountain for a training course but only seven returned.

The family of one of those who died is gutted that local iwi and the Department of Conservation (DoC) won't let them erect a new memorial plaque on the mountain honouring both those who survived and passed away. The old one spells their son's name wrong.

It's a heartbreaking trip down memory lane.

"You look at these photos, how clear and blue the skies are in these photos, those first days they were, they are in T-shirts here."

The photos were the final photos taken of Private Jason Menhennet alive. They reveal the calm before the storm that claimed his life 32 years ago.

In August 1990, the 20-year-old joined 12 other military personnel up Mount Ruapehu for an Army training course.

Only seven returned. Jason wasn't one of them.

He and five others died of exposure after being caught in an unexpected ferocious blizzard.

The men had no communication and were no match for the ­conditions.

"One of the survivors, I asked him what it was like being up there and he said he remembers hearing the boys crying for their mums and their families," Jason's sister Ingrid Menhennet told Newshub.

The dead - five soldiers and a naval rating - were aged between 19 and 23. 

 A memorial plaque in their honour was later placed up at Whakapapa and blessed by local iwi - but to the disappointment of the Menhennet family, Jason's last name was spelt wrong.

His sister said it was awful.

In 2020, those impacted by the tragedy decided a new plaque should be designed - with the correct spelling and the names of the survivors added. It was to go in the same space as the original. Money was raised and a design was finalised.

But the families were told local iwi said no, citing several reasons - including there's already one there which they weren't consulted on, they aren't benefactors of the park, it's not consistent with park values and for health and safety reasons. The Department of Conservation supported the decision.

Ingrid said she found the decision to not go ahead with the plaque was disrespectful.

"These servicemen joined the Army to serve the country, they died on an Army exercise on Mount Ruapehu. It's the honourable thing to have that memorial replaced."

His sister contacted the Government, the Ministry of Defence, asking for support and help.

"They more or less dismissed the memorial or getting involved in the memorial."

So Newshub asked the Prime Minister.

"My hope is all parties can come together and find a solution. It strikes me as something that should be able to be resolved."

The Department of Conservation also replied to Newshub saying they will invite the Menhennet family to meet with the local Whakapapa team on-site to explore options that are agreeable and respectful to all those involved.

 And while it was 32 years ago, it still feels like a moment for this family. 

The family said it's time the wrongs were put right, including the spelling of their favourite boy's name.

Sign up to receive news updates

By entering your email address, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Newshub and its affiliates may use your email address to provide updates/news, ads, and offers. To withdraw your consent or learn more about your rights, see the Privacy Policy.