3 Aug 2018

Mt Aspiring climber rescued after four nights trapped

6:16 pm on 3 August 2018

The Australian soldier trapped high up on Mount Aspiring for four nights has finally been flown off and taken to hospital.

Mount Aspiring

Mount Aspiring Photo: RNZ / Steve Wilde

A break in the weather this afternoon has allowed two helicopters to reach Terry Harch and the four rescuers who made it to him last night.

He is now being treated at Dunedin Hospital for minor frost bite.

Wanaka Alpine Cliff Rescue co-ordinator Paul Rogers said Mr Harch, who is a serving Australian Army officer, was in good spirits.

"I've trained New Zealand soldiers and Australian soldiers for many years as an instructor and they all know how to dig in when things don't go well. And this person has definitely found himself some shelter and the best thing he could have done was stay out of the wind chill and the driving snow which he would have been in for the last four days. And he did a great job."

A search and rescue spokesperson in Wanaka, Phil Melchior, said the final part of the operation was over in less than 10 minutes.

"I would describe it as a very happy ending to a situation that could have been much worse than it was."

After setting off his locator beacon, the 29-year-old spent three nights waiting in sub-zero conditions to see if someone would come to his rescue.

An older style beacon, the signal was sent to its operator in Texas who then made the call to authorities here to tell them somebody was in trouble.

Low cloud and strong winds prevented rescuers from reaching him for four nights.

Then, just as the sun was disappearing behind the horizon and Mr Harch was facing a fifth night alone on the mountain, the clouds cleared just enough to allow a chopper to land close to where the signal was coming from.

Mr Rogers said Mr Harch came out from his shelter and waved to the helicopter to let them know where he was.

"It was way too windy to attempt to winch down the paramedic that was attached to the Southern Lakes helicopter, and also way too windy last night, and with fading light, to risk winching the patient off the glacier," Mr Rogers said.

"So the four rescuers pre-empted this and they were dropped off as close to the target area we wanted to get to, and they went in on skis. They toured in on skis towing sleds and survival equipment to get to this guy."

The rescue co-ordination centre's Neville Blakemore paid tribute to the helicopter pilot who managed to drop off Mr Harch's rescuers despite strong winds and fading light.

"It's taken some extreme skill. We've basically got some of New Zealand's top helicopter operators driving these machines around for us," he said.

"They don't take chances, but by the same token they are working in extremely harsh conditions, and you've got to have all your wits about you to get the machines into there."