Chopper turned back again on Aspiring search

The Australian climber started his trek nearly a week ago. Photo: ODT files
The Australian climber started his trek nearly a week ago. Photo: ODT files
A helicopter searching for a missing Australian climber on Mt Aspiring had to turn back again this morning due to the weather, but rescuers and a guide say he could still be alive.

The man set off his beacon at the edge of the Bonar Glacier at 12.15pm on Tuesday.

There are grave concerns over his condition, but rescuers were encouraged by movement of the emergency beacon a short distance to the northeast about 2.30pm yesterday.

The climber has not moved since yesterday and remains at Quarterdeck Pass. However, searchers were still very concerned for the man in his late 20s because he was lightly equipped.

A Rescue Cordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) spokesman said this morning a helicopter tried to fly to the man's location at 9am, but had to turn back.

However, there was still a chance he is alive.

"We've been told he has experience of building snowcaves so it's possible he's done that," the spokesman said.

"Everything is in place for immediate response if there is a break in the weather."

Professional guide and former owner of Aspiring Guides, Whitney Thurlow, also believed the climber could be alive if he was in a snowcave.

"If you dig a snowcave people can actually last a long time. The temperature warms up to about zero degrees, which isn’t particularly cold compared to outside, plus the big thing is you’re out of the wind.

"It’s about your only option. A tent wouldn’t survive up there in these conditions, it’d blow away."

Mr Thurlow said Quarterdeck Pass was a "very high narrow ramp of snow" that was "difficult to find".

He believed the poor conditions were likely to have played a part in him getting stuck on the pass.

"There’s very big cliffs to the left and right of you and if you can’t find it then you’ve got a big problem, which is the problem he’s in. You wouldn’t be able to find it unless you could see."     

The forecast for today is heavy rain, some thunderstorms, northerly winds of 50-60 km an hour and the temperature at 1800m is between -2degC and 0degC.

Earlier this morning, RCCNZ Search and Rescue Officer Geoff Lunt said an attempt was made last night to reach the last known position of the climber and drop off two Alpine Cliff Rescue crew.

Unfortunately the helicopter had to turn back due to low cloud in the area.

Southern Lakes rescue helicopter equipped with night vision flew with a paramedic and two rescue crew but after making three attempts had to turn back after an hour.

“As well as the poor weather conditions, there is a high risk of avalanches that is hampering the search assets from reaching the climber’s position,” Mr Lunt said.

Two rescue crew members are maintaining a weather watch from the French Ridge hut and will call for a helicopter through the Wanaka SAR base if the cloud lifts.

A Rescue Centre spokeswoman yesterday said the helicopter crew were based close to Aspiring Hut and remained on stand-by in case there was a break in the weather that would allow them to drop a bag containing clothing, equipment and food to the climber.

Members of the alpine cliff rescue team found most of the Australian man's equipment at French Ridge hut.

A spokesman believed the man had equipped himself lightly for a fast climb and return, which was ''common practice''.

''While he was well equipped for the trip, he was climbing lightly equipped and most of his gear - his heavier cold weather gear, sleeping bag, food and the like - are at the hut and not with him.''



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