28 Dec 2016

Mt Aspiring climber's death: 'The margin of error is nil'

8:51 pm on 28 December 2016

A European man who plunged to his death while descending Mt Aspiring today was not roped to anybody when he went over the edge of a 200m drop.

The Mt Aspiring national Park.

The Mt Aspiring national Park. Photo: 123rf.com

Police said the European man fell from the buttress area on the north-west ridge onto the Therma Glacier - a 200m vertical drop.

It was the most commonly climbed route to the 3000 metre peak.

Wanaka Police Search and Rescue were alerted about midday by a guided climbing party, who met the victim's Australian climbing partner on the mountain.

A volunteer alpine rescue team found and recovered the man's body this afternoon, after a three hour operation.

Last week two men fell from the south-west route and were rescued by two helicopters.

Phil Melchior - a member of the Wanaka Search and Rescue Incident Management Team - said the victim was descending after a successful summit.

"This unfortunate individual was not roped to anyone and apparently slipped and went off the edge and really, that was it.

"Incidents are unfortunately relatively common on Mt Aspiring, usually on the way down rather than on the way up."

He said the team knew that when word came in that somebody had taken a big fall on Mt Aspiring, the chances of finding them alive were "usually relatively slim".

"But given the experience of last week we were still hopeful but once they arrived there it was obvious pretty quickly he had died I would guess instantaneously on impact."

He said climbers needed to know their capabilities, and needed to be cautious in what they were doing,

"It's been a beautiful day here, but up on the mountain it was windy. It's always windier at altitude, but there's no indication it was a particular contributory factor. As far as we're aware at this stage it looks as if he slipped or tripped or something and the trouble is in these environments is that the margin of error is really nil."

He said it had been a busy summer for the Wanaka Search and Rescue team, with seven operations in the last week.

Tim Steward, the chief guide at Aspiring Guides, said it was one of his groups that met up with the man's climbing partner.

He said he understood they found the partner not far from where the man fell.

Mr Steward said the north-west ridge was the normal route up Aspiring, and was a moderately difficult climb.

He said it was a narrow and exposed ridge.