28 Oct 2013

Climbing couple die on Mt Taranaki

10:03 pm on 28 October 2013

The bodies of two climbers remain high on Mt Taranaki after a race to save them was defeated by bad weather.

Rescuers found Nicole Sutton alive on Monday morning when they reached the snow cave she and her partner Hiroki Ogawa dug to try to shelter from a blizzard. But the 29-year-old woman from Auckland died in their arms.

Hiroki Ogawa and Nicole Sutton.

Hiroki Ogawa and Nicole Sutton. Photo: NZ POLICE

The pair were part of a climbing group of eight who reached the summit of the mountain late on Saturday. Four of the group ran into trouble during the descent and two made it back down on Sunday.

Ms Sutton and Mr Ogawa, from Japan, tried to shelter in a snow cave for a second night as overnight temperatures plummeted to minus 17 degrees Celsius.

Rescuers battled treacherous conditions to reach them early on Monday and found that Mr Ogawa, 31, had died.

Police area commander Inspector Blair Telford said Ms Sutton was speaking with the rescuers initially and was given medical assistance for several hours. "However, during this time Nicole has slipped into a state of unconsciousness and after several hours showed no signs of life."

Inspector Blair Telford with parents Anna and Brian Sutton.

Inspector Blair Telford with parents Anna and Brian Sutton. Photo: RNZ

Mr Telford said the search and rescue team is waiting for a break in the weather either to bring the couple's bodies down from the mountain.

Keith Sutton told reporters on Monday he didn't think his daughter would survive a second night stranded in the snow cave. He said he got a text from Ms Sutton, but wasn't able to call because she was conserving battery power.

"It was difficult, because during the night we knew Nicole didn't think she'd survive the night from the text the night before. And based on her assessment, I had no reason to think I knew any better.

"So this morning I faced the morning and the reality that our daughter wasn't with us - only to find that she was - and then she wasn't. Anybody that's a parent will know what that's like."

Mr Sutton says said although his family are deeply saddened, the couple were doing what they loved.

A 65-year-old man and 38-year-old woman, managed to make their way off the mountain on Sunday morning. They had spent a night on the slopes in what has been described as filthy weather and were recovering from mild hypothermia, cuts and bruising.

Alpine specialists from the Taranaki Alpine Cliff Rescue and Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation took part in the operation.