Rescued Otago Uni trampers knew of snow forecast

The group were found by the Huxley River. Photo: WikiMili
The group were found by the Huxley River. Photo: WikiMili
Eight University of Otago trampers forced to hunker down in blizzard conditions in the Southern Alps knew the weather was expected to turn bad.

The group had to be rescued early today after heavy snow stopped them from reaching a North Otago hut. 

Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand said an alert was received from a Personal Locator Beacon at 9.45pm yesterday with a position near to the Main Huxley Forks Hut.

The beacon was registered to the University of Otago and had been hired to a group of eight staff and students who planned to reach the hut on Friday,  a six-hour tramp 18km up the Huxley valley, but couldn't reach it due to heavy snow in the area.

However, conditions overnight were not safe for a helicopter response and a LandSAR team was assembled and sent in to the location of the beacon's signal about midnight.

They found the group at the Huxley River, approximately 1.5km from the hut, at 5.30am. 

John Ashby from the Rescue Coordination Centre toid RNZ today the group had checked the weather forecast before setting out, so took an unnecessary risk.

"Last night a very brutal front came through and created a lot of snow and they would have been in blizzard conditions before they reached the hut."

Mr Ashby said the group assumed they would reach the hut and had no overnight gear.

Two women were found to be slightly hypothermic and were treated by the search and rescue team at the scene. No one needed hospital treatment.

The Helicopter Line from Mt Cook picked up the LandSAR and tramping parties and by 8am all were safely returned to the carpark where they started out from. 

Chris Henshaw, a search and rescue officer from RCCNZ, said the group did the right thing by carrying locator beacons.

"It allowed us to respond immediately and locate them quickly. This incident also acts a reminder to thoroughly consider the weather report before heading off as it appears that the amount of snow caught this group out."

RCCNZ worked with local police at Omarama to organise and prepare the LandSAR team before the team headed in.

An EMS helicopter from Queenstown was placed on standby, as well as the Mt Cook ACR team, however were stood down once the LandSAR reached the group and established they were not needed.

- ODT Online and RNZ

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