15 Aug 2008

Missing climbers may not have reached hut

8:11 pm on 15 August 2008

The teams who have been searching for a group of Australian climbers in Mt Cook National Park believe the climbers have not reached either of the huts in the area.

Atrocious weather and an extreme avalanche risk are hampering efforts to find the group who are believed to have activated an emergency beacon last night.

Australian media say the climbers are from Sydney and aged in their 30s.

The search and rescue co-ordinator, Keith Allen, says they had indicated they were making for one of the two mountain huts in the area but both are equipped with radio equipment which has not been used.

He says weather conditions on Friday evening have made it impossible to continue the search, but it will resume at first light on Saturday.

The climbers were intending to traverse Annette Plateau from Barron Saddle to Mueller Hut.

Rescue Co-ordination Centre spokesperson Ross Henderson says a fixed wing aircraft conducted a low level sweep when a short weather window on Friday afternoon allowed a helicopter to search the area.

A helicopter and a specialised alpine team is on standby in Mt Cook Village.

The New Zealand Mountain Safety Council has issued a warning of extreme avalanche risks for Mt Cook National Park and others.

Beacon found

Brief aerial searches were made on Friday afternoon and the location of an emergency beacon activated last night has been located.

The beacon is thought to have been triggered by the Australian climbers, but because it is an older style, the exact location was unclear.

A fixed wing aircraft conducted a low level sweep and a short weather window allowed a helicopter to narrow the search area.

The helicopter team found that it had been activated in the Metelille Glacier area of Mt Cook national park.