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Tragic accident highlights avalanche risk

30 November 2018

The Department of Conservation (DOC) says yesterday’s tragic accident where a climber was killed by an avalanche and another was rescued highlights the risks involved in exploring New Zealand’s mountains.

Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park is an unforgiving alpine environment and conditions can change rapidly with little warning.

Yesterday’s avalanche occurred on Eugenie Glacier below Mount Footstool.

Aoraki / Mt Cook Operations Manager Brent Swanson says more rain fell in the area yesterday than forecast, which increased the chances of an avalanche.

“The snow at Eugenie Glacier was loose and slushy as warmer temperatures meant the snow hadn’t frozen for several nights,” says Brent Swanson.

The 20-metre wide avalanche travelled for 300 metres, pushing the two climbers into a crevasse which made the rescue more challenging.

A Department of Conservation Mountain Rescue team picked up the surviving climber and recovered the deceased. The hazardous conditions meant the rescue helicopter could not land.

“Our crew had to use a rescue line attached to the helicopter because of the high risk of further avalanches in the area and weak crevasse bridges.

“Soon after, the crew flew to Freds Stream to rescue a hunter who had dislocated his shoulder after a fall.

“The team of four involved in yesterday’s two rescues often work in hazardous conditions to help people in trouble. Sadly, they’re not able to save everyone,” says Brent Swanson.

DOC praised both the climbers and the hunter for carrying a personal locator beacon.

“This meant we knew exactly where they were in trouble and could quickly assemble a crew to rescue them.”

DOC encourages all climbers to seek advice from the DOC visitor centre and the avalanche advisory website before climbing in Aoraki / Mt Cook, but conditions can change rapidly at any time.

“DOC Rangers from the rescue team are available to give advice and discuss the latest conditions. Climbers unsure about the conditions should contact the Visitor Centre as the staff there will have an up-to-date forecast,” says Brent Swanson.

As snow falls year-round in the park high altitude avalanches can occur at any time with increased risk for climbers during summer when temperatures are warmer.

For more information visit:

https://www.avalanche.net.nz/region/7

https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/canterbury/places/aoraki-mount-cook-national-park

https://www.doc.govt.nz/globalassets/documents/parks-and-recreation/plan-and-prepare/be-avalanche-alert-aoraki-mt-cook.pdf

–Ends–

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