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Tears and high-fives followed the rescue of two high school students from a collapsed snow cave on Mt Ruapehu on Thursday.
A group of nine Year 13 boys, two outdoor education teachers from Te Awamutu College and a qualified New Zealand Outdoor Instructors Association instructor were getting ready to spend the night in a snow cave they had dug on the Whakapapa Ski Field when it collapsed about 4.50pm.
Two boys from the group became trapped under about one metre of snow and survived by breathing from air pockets.
Staff moved quickly after being alerted to the rescue, said National Park constable Conrad Smith, who coordinated the rescue.
Like with an avalanche, time was "critical" and a St John paramedic raced to the scene on a skidoo, along with three members of the Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation.
"It could have been really bad. We've had people die up here on the mountain before," Mr Smith said.
But by the time the group arrived, the other students had dug both of the boys out - one of whom was "pretty dazed".
"Their mates dug them out," Mr Smith said.
"There were lots of tears, and hugs and high-fives."
The boys were shaken up but in "pretty good spirits", and the group stayed in huts overnight.
This kind of incident was "extremely rare", and Mr Smith said it was only the second time he had ever heard of a snow cave collapsing.
"People sleep in them up there all the time."
The accident was being investigated, but it was not yet known what had caused the collapse. Mr Smith doubted there would be any safety reviews.
Te Awamutu College deputy principal Wayne Carter said both boys were pulled from the snow and checked within 15 minutes of the collapse.
"Approximately 10 minutes after the instructor had inspected the cave it collapsed as the boys had continued digging.
"As part of their alpine training the boys had been educated about how to respond to a wide range of alpine hazards. The fact they were able to respond immediately and appropriately to such a hazard is testament to the teaching and learning they had done," Mr Carter said.
Both boys were checked by a medical professional after the incident.
They "are fine and unharmed".