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Climbers safely returned to base

16 AUGUST 2008

Climbers safely returned to base

A search and rescue helicopter team has now returned the six missing Australian climbers found in the Metelille Glacier area back to the Mt Cook Village base. All have been checked by medical staff and are well with no injuries.

The group was located at 9.45am after a weather window allowed a helicopter to get into the air shortly after 9.30am and home in on the beacon’s signal.

The group’s emergency beacon was detected by the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) late on Thursday evening (14 August).

Rescue efforts were yesterday hampered by heavy snow, although short weather windows did allow brief aerial searches which narrowed the search area to a section of the Metelille Glacier on the western side of the Sealy Range. Poor weather earlier this morning had also prevented helicopters from reaching the area.

RCCNZ launched the 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 two women and four men, equipped with a Personal Locator Beacon, had recorded their intention to climb in the area. The group had planned to leave Mt Cook Village last Saturday (9 August) and head to Mueller Hut, traversing the Annette Plateau and down to Barron Saddle, returning to Mt Cook Village yesterday (Friday 15 August).

More information gathered by RCCNZ overnight, including a more detailed itinerary of their intentions, indicates that the group had intended to carry a range of equipment appropriate to the conditions.

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, and usually immediately determine their intentions and whereabouts from registered contacts. 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.

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

ENDS

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