Mt Cook operation to resume this morning

A search and rescue operation will resume at dawn today after bad weather hampered attempts yesterday to get to a group of climbers stranded in the Mt Cook area.

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.

The Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCC) launched the search and rescue operation after receiving an alert from an emergency beacon, localised to the Mt Cook area, shortly after 10pm on Thursday.

The RCC yesterday said it could not be confirmed whether the beacon was activated by the Australian party, as other groups could be in the area without having left details of their intentions.

Rescue efforts were hampered yesterday by heavy snow, although short periods of clear weather allowed aerial searches which narrowed the search area to a section of the Metelille Glacier.

However, the weather closed in to the point it was 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 about 6.30am.

They will be assisted by the winch-equipped Westpac helicopter from Christchurch, which offers paramedic care.

The search and rescue team and a helicopter were on standby at Mount Cook village yesterday waiting for a break in the weather.

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

About 2pm, a helicopter 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," RCC spokeswoman Sophie Hazelhurst said.

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

The weather forecast did not predict any break in the conditions until dawn today.

Keith Allen, from the RCC, told Radio New Zealand the activation of an emergency locater beacon so high up the mountain in such poor weather was a concern.

The only information rescuers had about the Australian party was that it appeared to be well equipped.

"They have done the right thing and put their intentions in."

The beacon was one of the older-style 121.5/243MHz models, which did not provide rescuers with registration details.

Those beacons, which only give approximate positional information, are being phased out in February next year.

The newer 406 MHz models were registered, which means the RCC could quickly identify the owner or user of an activated beacon.

Sydney's Daily Telegraph newspaper said the Australian group comprised two women and four men who had been staying in a youth hostel at Mount Cook village.

When contacted, Bryan Carter, from Alpine Guides, confirmed the group had hired gear.

The New Zealand Mountain Safety Council issued a warning for people to avoid back-country travel in the Aoraki-Mount Cook and Westland National Parks and the Arthurs Pass region following snowstorms.


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