Early this morning, one Japanese climber, Hideaki Nara, was rescued from Aoraki Mt Cook and the body of his climbing mate, Kiyoshi Ikenouchi, was taken down the mountain by helicopter. The two men were both experienced climbers and Mr Ikenouchi was a mountain guide who had climbed Mt Cook before.
They began their climb of Mt Cook on Thursday last week, eight days ago when the weather was good. They planned to return to Mt Cook village by Saturday but on Friday the weather changed. They were caught in severe weather, strong winds, thunder and lightning, blowing snow and temperatures between -20° and -25°. They decided to put up their tent on a ledge, which was more than 3,500m high, and stay there until the weather cleared.
The weather did not clear for six days. On Wednesday, a helicopter managed to drop a rescue pack near the tent. It contained food, fuel, warm sleeping bags, and a radio but we know now that the men did not see it. The wind was probably so noisy they didn’t hear the helicopter. Helicopter pilots tried several times to reach the tent but the weather was too bad.
Finally, at 5.30am this morning, the weather cleared for a few hours, and the helicopter managed to land on one ski. It took one minute for Nara to jump on board before the helicopter took off. He knew that his mate had died in the night. The wind took their tent and one sleeping bag away on Wednesday night and left the two men with no shelter. Nara was lucky to survive. He was taken to hospital but his condition is not serious.
The helicopter pilot, Nigel Gee, is a skilled pilot who knows the mountain well. It is a very, dangerous job in bad weather. Poor visibility means that it is difficult to see when it is snowing, and strong winds make the helicopter hard to control. The summer climbing season is from November to March and Gee knows that the weather can change suddenly which means that climbers can be in trouble. When that happens, the helicopter pilot is called in to help.
Mr Ikenouchi is the 69th climber to have died on Aoraki Mt Cook since climbing began on this mountain in 1882.