Contractor killed in mystery mountain plunge named

A contractor is dead after his ute plunged about 170 metres down a scree bank near the Mt Hutt ski area in poor conditions yesterday.

Skifield staff who worked with the man found the crash site about 7am after following tracks in the snow from the main access road.

Police named the man this morning as 55-year-old Barry Thomas Whitcombe, from Ashburton, but it remains a mystery as to why his vehicle left a road he knew well after years of working on the mountain.

Mr Whitcombe was an experienced grader driver, employed as a contractor at Mt Hutt ski field.

Police say the cause of the incident is yet to be determined. Initial inquiries indicate that the utility vehicle Mr Whitcombe was driving came off the skifield access road, and he was thrown from the vehicle.

The accident happened about 2km from the skifield car park, on a section of the road known as Windy Point.

Investigators will consider factors including weather conditions and the possibility of a medical event as potential contributing factors.

Weather conditions in the area at the time were poor, with strong wind and rain, and several inches of snow on the ground.

The Police Serious Crash Unit attended the scene and is continuing inquiries. A post mortem will be conducted today.

Methven Police Senior Constable Mike Seque said there was about six inches of snow on the ground and it was raining and foggy when the crash occurred, not long before the ute was discovered.

"A Toyota Hilux double cab ute has simply, on its way up the hill, driven off the road and gone down a scree bank," Mr Seque said.

"The vehicle has come to rest approximately 170m down, on its roof. The driver was found thrown clear.

"At this stage we don't know why or how it's occurred, we'll just have to wait until our investigation is complete."

Mt Hutt general manager of operations James Urquhart said the ski area's chaplain and counselling were being made available.

"It's a massive loss for us and for our staff. Our staff are devastated," Mr Urquhart said.

Mr Whitcombe was not an employee of Mt Hutt. He was an outside contractor and experienced at driving on the access road.

Mr Seque commended the Methven Volunteer Fire Brigade who executed a textbook retrieval of the body using ropes in trying conditions.

- By Erin Tasker of the Ashburton Guardian

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