24 Jul 2009

One killed as avalanche hits ski party in Southern Alps

10:22 pm on 24 July 2009

An Australian tourist is dead after an avalanche hit a heli-ski group in the Southern Alps near Methven.

Canterbury police say the man was one of three tourists skiing in the Ragged Range with the company Alpine Guides when the avalanche occurred about 1pm on Friday.

Alpine Guides' managing director Bryan Carter has confirmed the dead man was from Australia.

Australian media report Melbourne real estate agent John Castran, 53, and his son Angus Castran, 23, were the tourists that survived.

The Mt Cook-based company made a routine check of the region in the morning and notified the Mountain Safety Council that the risk of avalanche in the area was high.

But just hours later, two guides took the tourists into the region close to the Main Divide for a heli-skiing session.

The man who died was buried for six minutes before his body was found.

Senior Constable Brent Swanson says the avalanche was caused by the skiers and though avalanches are not unusual, it is uncommon for people to be caught by them.

Mr Swanson praised the Alpine Guides' staff for their efforts, saying they were well trained and had done a good job in getting the tourists out.

Steve Schreiber, from the Mountain Safety Council, said the avalanche was relatively big and had a width of about 200 metres.

Police will not release the man's name until his family have been informed and have referred the death to the coroner.

The Department of Labour has launched a separate investigation.

Experienced company

Alpine Guides is New Zealand's longest established mountain and ski guiding company.

The Mt Cook-based company was set up in 1967 and has been operating heli-skiing trips for more than 20 years.

Managing director Brian Carter says this is the first avalanche fatality the company has experienced and the guides involved feel awful about what has happened.