Two climbers — one badly injured — spent a night in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park as rescuers embarked on a complicated mission to get them to safety.
The climbers were caught by a rock slide in steep terrain on Wednesday evening and weather conditions hampered rescue efforts, but a break in the clouds early on Thursday morning allowed a helicopter crew to winch down an alpine cliff rescue team.
The Greymouth Rescue Helicopter then flew the pair — a man and woman in their 50s — to Greymouth Hospital.
The man had an arm badly broken in two places, concussion and a badly gashed leg. The woman was relatively unharmed, and she had roped the injured climber on to the steep slope to prevent him from falling and suffering further injuries.
Maritime New Zealand’s rescue co-ordination centre led the complicated rescue. Search mission co-ordinator Neville Blakemore said the climbers activated the distress alerting function of their InReach device at 5.30pm on Wednesday after the rock slide.
The rescue was completed at 8.50am on Thursday when the climbers arrived at Greymouth Hospital, having been flown there by rescue helicopter.
Blakemore said being able to activate the device might well have saved the injured
climber’s life. The pair had been well-equipped for the terrain they were traversing.
On Wednesday evening, the co-ordination centre requested a Helicopter Line helicopter to fly from Aoraki/Mt Cook with a Department of Conservation alpine cliff rescue team on board.
They could not get to the scene of the rock slide at 1800 metres’ altitude on Mt D’Archiac (50km northeast of Aoraki/Mt Cook) because of heavy cloud. Instead, they landed the rescue team at Godley Hut to wait overnight, watch the weather and keep in contact with the co-ordination centre.
The centre had helicopters with night-flying equipment on standby in Christchurch and
Low cloud prevented the Christchurch helicopter flying, but at 3am on Thursday, during a break in the cloud in the mountains, the Greymouth Rescue Helicopter was able to fly to the scene and winch down the alpine cliff rescue team.
The two climbers were flown to Greymouth Hospital at about 7.30am.
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