Stranded Australian climbers rescued safely

Six stranded Australian climbers were rescued on Saturday morning in the Aoraki-Mt Cook area, 36 hours after setting off an emergency beacon.

Constable Carl Pedersen, of Twizel, said it was a good result, as there were fears it could have been a recovery of six bodies.

Bad conditions hampered attempts to get to the climbers but a window in the weather allowed a helicopter to get airborne shortly after 9.30am and home in on the beacon's signal.

The four men and two women were located at 9.45am in the Metelille Glacier area and flown back to Mount Cook Village.

They were checked by medical staff and all were well.

Const Pedersen said the group looked "pretty cheerful" when they got out of the helicopter, considering what they had been through.

One was a bit uncomfortable as their toes were "pretty cold".

The group's emergency beacon was detected by the Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCC) shortly after 10pm on Thursday.

Rescue efforts on Friday were hampered by heavy snow although short weather windows did allow brief aerial searches which narrowed the search area to a section of the Metelille Glacier on the western side of the Sealy Range.

RCC spokesman Ross Henderson said the party had recorded their intention to climb in the area.

The group had planned to leave Mount Cook Village last Saturday (August 9) and head to Mueller Hut, traversing the Annette Plateau and down to Barron Saddle, returning to the village on Friday.

Information gathered by the RCC, including a more detailed itinerary of their intentions, indicated the group had intended to carry a range of equipment appropriate to the conditions, he said.

Const Pedersen said the group were walking towards the Mueller Hut when it got to the point the snow was so deep - up to their chests - they could not physically make progress through it and "hunkering down" was a good idea.

Mueller Hut was 400-odd metres away.

Asked whether the group was well equipped, Const Pedersen said to survive that amount of time in those conditions, they had sufficient equipment but probably could have had more.

They could have done with more shovels and they did not have avalanche transceivers which, for the region they were in, would have been a good idea.

That did not have implications for the outcome, he said.

The beacon was an older model due to be phased out in February next year.

A newer model would have given more assistance to rescuers, he said.

The group, which came from Sydney, ranged in age from 20s to 50s and some were experienced climbers, who were leading the party.

One was a regular visitor to the Mount Cook area.

After being flown to Mount Cook Village, several of the party flew with a television news crew back over where they had been stranded.

Const Pedersen dropped four back to the youth hostel, where they had been staying, and they had to dig their vehicle out of the snow to get some clean clothes.

There had been between about 60cm-70cm of snow in the village, he said.

The Sunday Star Times named the rescued climbers as Jennie Landon (37), Stephen Dolphin (53), Melissa Clerke (27), David Freeland (55), Terry Cole and Gerald Osman.


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