1 Jan 2015

Families deal with missing climber ordeal

7:33 pm on 1 January 2015

Three climbers missing on Aoraki Mount Cook for three days are probably dead, police say.

Aoraki/Mt Cook.

The three climbers were last seen on Aoraki Mount Cook early on Monday. Photo: PHOTO NZ

Bad weather on Tuesday forced rescue teams to abandon the search for Australian man Michael Bishop, 53, and German father and son Raphael and Johann Viellehner, aged 58 and 27 respectively, who were last seen on Linda Glacier in the early hours of Monday morning.

Police said they had told the families of the missing climbers that they did not expect to find the climbers alive and said the operation had switched from a rescue to body recovery.

Senior Constable Brent Swanson, who is leading the search, said two helicopters had been searching the area since first light but there was no sign of the men.

It had been hoped they would have been spotted from the air today if they had survived the storm.

However, there was no sign of them and it was now believed they had died, Mr Swanson said.

There was always a glimmer of hope they may have survived until their bodies had been found "but it's very, very low, to a point where it would be a miracle if they have survived", he said.

An examination of clothing and equipment left at the hut suggested the men were only wearing light climbing gear.

"We've now recovered their clothing, and we believe they were only wearing soft shell clothing at the time, which would be normal for the trip they were doing," Mr Swanson said.

"So just the nature of the storm, and the conditions if they were out in it, would make it unsurvivable."

Mr Swanson said he spoke to Dr Bishop's family in Australia today and they were upset.

He said it would take time for the families to figure out what to do from here.

Further aerial searches planned

Further aerial searches were expected to take place over the next few days in an attempt to locate the climbers' bodies but the Christchurch-based search and rescue team had returned home and Department of Conservation searchers were on standby.

Alpine Rescue chief guide Dave McKinley, who was the last person to see the missing men as they set out on Monday, said they seemed adequately prepared and competent.

Conditions were reasonable at the time but the weather on the mountain could change quickly, Mr McKinley said.

About 30cm of snow had fallen at Plateau Hut, where the trio had set out from on Monday, over a 70-hour period and could have reached depths of two to three metres higher up the mountain.

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