Six climbers plucked to safety

Six Australian climbers trapped in heavy snow for two nights huddled together in one three-man tent for 36 hours before they were rescued.

The six climbers, two woman and four men ranging in age from 20s to 50s, were rescued by helicopters this morning from the Mueller Glacier area in Mt Cook National Park in the South Island's Southern Alps.

One climber, named as Stephen Dolphin, was quoted on Radio New Zealand tonight as saying the party, which had been in the park for several days, was trapped by snow on Thursday night.

The group were only 500 metres from a hut but the conditions were so bad they decided to pitch camp.

They only managed to get one tent up in atrocious conditions and huddled together for warmth -- "It was quite cosy." Mr Dolphin said he entertained the group with stories about his climbing experiences over the years.

He added one of the woman celebrated her birthday in the tent last night.

In deteriorating conditions with the threat of avalanches, the party set off an emergency locater beacon which led to a rescue attempt last night.

But poor weather thwarted helicopters and it was not until this morning the stranded climbers were spotted in better weather and rescued about 10am.

None of the Australians were frostbitten or injured and they were shuttled for medical checks and a meal at Mt Cook park headquarters.

Mr Dolphin said, "I suppose you would say it's mixed emotions through the group.

"Some of them are extremely relieved to be down here and others are sort of annoyed that we required rescuing." Radio New Zealand said late this afternoon the six were on their way to Christchurch and were due to fly back to Australia tomorrow morning.

Alpine Guides owner Bryan Carter, who was involved in the rescue effort, said the area where they were climbing was not noted for being dangerous.

It was regarded as relatively moderate terrain, and he did not think the group had been reckless.

"There's been quite substantial snowfall in the last 36 hours," he said yesterday.

"Avalanche conditions have deteriorated in the duration of their trip; that's not uncommon." Two Australian High Commission officials flew to Mount Cook Village today to offer what help they could.

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