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Mt Cook search and rescue operation

DATE: 15 AUGUST 2008

Mt Cook search and rescue operation

A search and rescue operation in response to an emergency beacon alert in the Mt Cook area on Thursday will resume tomorrow morning (Saturday 16 August) at first light.

Rescue efforts were today hampered by heavy snow, although short weather windows did allow aerial searches which narrowed the search area to a section of the Metelille Glacier.

However, the weather has closed in to the point it would be dangerous to attempt to use night vision-equipped aircraft.

Two helicopters, with specialist alpine search and rescue teams on board will be ready to fly to the search area at first light (about 6.30am). They will be assisted by the winch equipped Westpac Helicopter from Christchurch, which will be able to offer paramedic care.

The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) launched a search and rescue operation after receiving an alert from a 121.5/243 MHz emergency beacon, localised to the Mt Cook area, at 10.07pm on Thursday (14 August).

Inquiries by RCCNZ showed that an Australian party of six, equipped with a Personal Locator Beacon, had recorded their intention to traverse Annette Plateau from Barron Saddle to Mueller Hut.

It can not be confirmed at this stage whether the beacon was activated by this party, as other groups could be in the area without having left details of their intentions.

As the beacon was one of the older-style 121.5 models, it does not provide rescuers with registration details. The newer 406 MHz models are registered, which means RCCNZ can quickly identify the owner or user of a beacon that has been activated. The 121.5 beacons are being phased out in February 2009.

The 121.5 beacons only give approximate positional information, and several brief aerial searches were conducted today to identify the exact location of the signal.

A fixed wing aircraft was this afternoon able to conduct a low level sweep over where the beacon was believed to have been activated, and a short weather window allowed a helicopter to approach and narrow the search area.

The helicopter was able to make the attempt about 2pm, and determined the beacon was likely to be in the Metelille Glacier area. However, the weather closed in again, and the helicopter was forced to return to Mt Cook.

Land search and rescue teams are currently unable to get in to the area due to the avalanche risk.

More than 20 people from a range of search and rescue agencies are assisting in the operation.

The weather forecast anticipates a break in the conditions at dawn tomorrow.

No further releases will be issued tonight.

RCCNZ is the national coordinator for all major (Category II) search and rescue incidents within New Zealand’s search and rescue region – an area covering more than 30 million square kilometres. It responds to significant incidents on land, air and sea, and all distress alerts from emergency beacons. RCCNZ is part of Maritime New Zealand and is Government-funded to provide a 24 hour, seven day a week service.


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