Nicole Sutton and Hiroki Ogawa
The bodies of two climbers who died on Mt Taranaki have
been recovered in an early morning operation.
A break in the weather meant search and rescue teams were
able to carry out the retrieval of the remains of Nicole
Sutton and Hiroki Ogawa from 6.50am.
The couple perished on the mountain after becoming trapped
close to the summit on Saturday night when poor weather
Rescue teams managed to reach them on Monday morning but both
Bad weather, which had hampered rescue attempts throughout
Saturday night and Sunday, also prevented any further
recovery of the bodies yesterday.
This morning Air Force personnel dropped Alpine Cliff Rescue
team members on the mountain. They winched the pair off the
site and returned them to New Plymouth.
The operation took just over an hour.
It was earlier reported that Ms Sutton and Dr Ogawa were a
young couple in love - and expected to marry.
But they died side-by-side huddled in a waist-high trench at
the weekend, more than a day after Ms Sutton sent a text to
say she feared she would not survive the ordeal.
The last contact Keith Sutton had with his 29-year-old
daughter was a text message on Saturday night, several hours
after she and Dr Ogawa, 31, had burrowed into the snow near
the summit of Mt Taranaki to shelter from gale-force winds.
Her father replied to the message, and never heard from her
"We knew that Nicole didn't think she'd survive the night
based on the texts the night before, and based on her
assessment I had no reason to think I knew any better.
"So this morning [yesterday], I faced the reality that our
daughter wasn't with us ... only to find out she was, and
then she wasn't."
Searches for the pair were initially hampered by the weather,
which drove helicopters back from the mountain and made it
impossible for rescuers to approach on foot.
They knew where the couple were, with Ms Sutton communicating
their position to police through a series of text messages.
But the conditions made it too treacherous to reach them.
At dawn yesterday, teams set off on foot up the mountain,
"gravely concerned" but still hopeful for a positive outcome.
They reached the pair at 7.30am, discovering them close
together in waist-deep snow. Dr Ogawa was dead but Ms Sutton,
whom they had heard crying out for help, was conscious.
Initially she was speaking to them, but she then slipped into
unconsciousness and after several hours of medical treatment
she showed no signs of life.
Her father cherished the fact that she had been able to speak
to the searchers.
"Anybody who's a parent will know what that's like. But the
circumstances in which that occurred, they were good
circumstances, with people doing their job and doing the best
they could, and we respect the people who have given us
information about those brief moments that they had with
Nicole," he said.
"The fact she knew that Hiroki had died was important to me
because for a moment, I thought maybe she didn't know what
had happened, so that was a relief for me."
Ms Sutton and Dr Ogawa met two years ago, and by all accounts
were the love of each other's life. Ms Sutton's parents saw
wedding bells in their future, and photos on their Facebook
pages show their happiness.
Ms Sutton grew up in the Marton area and attended Chilton St
James School in Lower Hutt before obtaining a degree in
accounting and commercial law. She later studied earth
sciences and began working as a geospatial analyst.
In 2010, she took a job with environmental planning and
design consultancy firm Boffa Miskell.
Dr Ogawa was born in Japan and lived near Tokyo.
He graduated from the University of Wollongong in Australia
with a bachelor of science and earth sciences/geosciences in
2005, before enrolling at the University of Auckland to
complete his PhD.
Dr Ogawa worked as a tutor and lecturer in geography and
earth science, and last June began a research fellowship,
investigating the physical impact of sea-level rise on coral
Not long after he settled in Auckland, the avid mountain
climber joined the New Zealand Alpine Club.
Ms Sutton, an accomplished skier, joined the club recently
and while not experienced, put her trust in her boyfriend,
who was skilled and respected in the climbing community.
Labour weekend was supposed to be a dream weekend away for
the couple. They arrived in Taranaki, got their gear ready at
the Tahurangi Alpine Lodge and set off towards the summit of
the 2500m-high mountain.
While it was a weekend-long trip, the climbs were all-day
jaunts and not overnighters. They had good gear and they were
prepared for the day.
On Saturday afternoon, the weather turned. Thick cloud
swallowed the mountain and the wind howled - up to 100km/h.
Realising they could not make a safe descent in the
horrendous conditions, the couple dug a trench in the snow,
climbed in and huddled together.
Yesterday, police explained how the couple became separated
from their climbing companions.
There were two parties of four, with one reaching the summit
and returning to the base straight away while the second went
up and abseiled over the Shark's Tooth and began their
descent about 7pm.
Ms Sutton and Dr Ogawa fell behind others in their group, so
decided to hunker down.
The others set off their emergency beacon, alerting
Inspector Blair Telford said police had worked with Interpol
to contact Dr Ogawa's parents. It was too early for them to
have made any arrangements in terms of their son.
Last night, tributes were flowing for the couple. "Apart from
his own personal achievements in climbing, which were
considerable, [Dr Ogawa] will be remembered by the climbing
community as someone who gave back to the grassroots," said
NZ Alpine Club general manager Sam Newton.
Ms Sutton's cousin Jan said: "Way too young to die, but she
died doing something she loved, and alongside the one she
loved. It breaks my heart as Anna [Nicole's mother] has only
just come through chemotherapy. Nicole is now up in heaven
with her brother Jeremy, who passed away at age 2 of cancer."