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Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only


Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only


Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only


Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only ii


Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only


Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only


Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only


Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only vi


Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only


Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only viii


Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only


Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only


Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only


Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only xii


Chapter 1:

Introduction Each year in Aotearoa-New Zealand, snow and ice avalanches injure or kill people, equipment is lost or damaged, facilities are destroyed, and revenue lost. For many of the people involved, the risk from avalanches had not been adequately considered in the decision making process prior to the accident. The objective of this book is to describe the circumstances of avalanche fatalities occurring in this country prior to December 1999 in the

hope that readers can use the information from past accidents to avoid future ones. It is also important that the actual details of avalanche accidents are not lost over the passage of time. The fact that these needs are widely recognised is indicated by the large number of people who helped with the project in some way or other. Many thanks are extended to all those who contributed (see acknowledgements).

Historical Data Collection Although the mountain regions of New Zealand have produced avalanches for eons, documented evidence of human involvement is limited to the years following colonisation in the mid19th century with the first and largest occurrence at Dunstan in Central Otago in 1863. Early accounts have been found in books and newspaper articles. However, it is thought many avalanche events involving mining and exploration may never have been documented. Communications were very unreliable (it took over ten days for the Dunstan disaster to be written about in any detail in the Christchurch Press), and many accidents may never have been recorded at all. Later, as the mountain clubs developed, bulletins and journals often included accounts of avalanche fatalities. The New Zealand Mountain Safety Council (NZMSC) formed the Avalanche

Data Centre in 1981 as a function of the Avalanche Committee. At this time the systematic collection of avalanche data began. An avalanche bibliography was published and historical accounts began to be amassed. In 1986, a history of snow avalanches in New Zealand (Breese et al. 1986) was published. Since 1981, the NZMSC has collected information regarding avalanche accidents. The collected information includes: • The Avalanche Accident and Damage Summaries which records details of avalanche events involving people and/ or facilities, as observed and reported by contributing agencies, organisations and individuals. • Coronial records, which include witness statements and other evidence detailing events resulting in fatalities.

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 1


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

• N Z M S C Av a l a n c h e A c c i d e n t Investigations which, along with investigations by other organisations held by NZMSC, detail events resulting in fatalities or serious damage to facilities (such as lift structures or buildings). • Newspaper articles that describe a wide range of avalanche activity and may report events unrelated to either fatalities or damage to facilities. Other organisations such as the New Zealand Alpine Club, the Federated Mountain Clubs and the Department of Conservation have also produced accounts of incidents and accidents. The discussions of accidents in the following pages have been compiled from a variety of sources. During the process of compilation a few problems surfaced regarding the circumstances surrounding

some events. At times, historical accounts greatly lacked detail. In other events, witness statements and accounts held conflicting information and even coronial records sometimes left out important details. The recording and storing of avalanche data involves making subjective decisions on the part of those individuals maintaining the information. As a consequence, the interpretation of any number of incidents and accidents may vary from individual to individual (e.g. did the avalanche kill the climbers or did the climbers fall and avalanches bury the bodies after the event?). The authors have made every effort to present the events described in the following pages as accurately and objectively as possible.

Definitions: Snow and Ice Avalanches This book describes avalanche accidents resulting from both snow and ice avalanches. Snow avalanches occur when a mass of snow loses cohesion with the other snow layers and/or snow crystals supporting it, thus causing it to slide down-slope. Snow avalanches can happen any time snow is present throughout the year but are most common through the winter months.

Ice avalanches occur when large sections of ice break free from a glacier or other ice deposit and travel down-slope breaking up on the way. Ice avalanching is the result of the process of ablation or breaking up of glacial ice and the effect is similar to that of snow avalanches.

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 2


Chapter 1: Introduction

The Avalanche Net

Structure and Format

Subsequent to the avalanche accident in the Monk Glacier in July of 1997 (refer to page 37), members of the New Zealand Mountain Guides Association created the New Zealand Avalanche Information Exchange (Infoex). The Infoex is a computer programme accessed through the internet that has greatly enhanced the collection, storage and retrieval of avalanche information. The aim of Infoex is to provide a means for professional and recreational snow observers to share their data on a daily basis, record the data in a uniform structure, and then be able to interpret the data to predict trends in avalanche stability more easily. Details of avalanche involvement can also be reported at this site. In 1999, the NZMSC became involved in the programme and extended the scope of Infoex to include a public avalanche-danger advisory service. The site can be accessed at:

The structure and format of the book is based upon Avalanche Accidents in Canada (Jamieson & Geldsetzer, 1996) whose work is gratefully acknowledged. We have used black and white figures and photographs in a similar manner to the Canadian book but have also been fortunate enough to include some colour plates. These are divided between photographs and eight regional maps which we hope will give at least a general idea of location of avalanche accidents discussed. The coverage of these maps is indicated in Figure 1.1 while the maps are contained in the colour section.

http://www.avalanche.net.nz

Following this introduction, Chapter 2 presents a study of trends and patterns drawn from the accounts. Chapter 3 contains the personal accounts of avalanche accidents in which death has been averted through the fast thinking and actions of the survivors. Chapter 4 contains the summaries of 58 avalanche accidents resulting in a total of 128 fatalities. Details of these 58 accidents are summarised in the Appendix. Note that the number system in this appendix is used in Chapter 4 and on the Regional Maps, though three accidents which occurred outside the areas on the Regional Maps are indicated on Figure 1.1. All weather maps are analyses at 0000 hours on the day indicated.

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 3


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

Figure 1.1:  Map of Aotearoa-New Zealand showing location of Regional Maps found in Chapter 2 and location of fatalities not located on Regional Maps.

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 4


Chapter 2: Trends in Avalanche Accidents: 1860–1999 Introduction The discussions in this section are based on data contained in the Appendix (p.143-152).

The purpose of this chapter is to discuss trends in avalanche accidents. It contains an examination of the overall trends and frequency of avalanche accidents over the time of the study.

In the following discussion, where reference is made to a year or years, it refers to calendar years (being January 1st through December 31st).

The database of avalanche statistics accumulated spans the years from 1863 through 1999. 45

41

35 30 25

23

20

17

16

15 12

10

5

1990-1999

1980-1989

1970-1979

1960-1969

2 1950-1959

4 0

1940-1949

3

1930-1939

0

1920-1929

3

1910-1919

1870-1879

1860-1869

0

0

1900-1909

2

1890-1899

5

1880-1889

Number of Avalanche Deaths

40

Year Period

Figure 2.1:  Distribution of Avalanche Deaths 1860-1999

Avalanche Fatalities In the years between 1860 and 1999, records detail the deaths of 128 people resulting from avalanches. Figure 2.1 shows the historical distribution of avalanche deaths in Aotearoa-New Zealand.

The statistics suggest that the average number of deaths resulting from avalanches has steadily increased through the years (given the exception of the 1863 event involving the deaths of 41 people). Figure 2.2 shows the historical average distribution of avalanche deaths in Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 5


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

Average Number of Avalanche Deaths

4.5 4 3.5 3 2.5 2 1.5 1 0.5

1990-1999

1980-1989

1970-1979

1960-1969

1950-1959

1940-1949

1930-1939

1920-1929

1910-1919

1900-1909

1890-1899

1880-1889

1870-1879

1860-1869

0

Year Period

Figure 2.2:  Historical Average of Avalanche Deaths per Year 1860-1999

The increase in the average number of fatalities over the last five or six decades is likely due to an increase in population coupled with an increase in the popularity of alpine recreation activities. Over the

last decade, the average number of yearly fatalities has declined and may be a result of increased avalanche awareness and better dissemination of avalanche information.

Seasonal Occurrences of Avalanche Fatalities Avalanche fatalities occur throughout the year. However, as indicated in Figure 2.3, 71% of fatalities occur in the period June to September, and a further 19% occur

in November, December and January. There are few fatalities in the February to June period.

Number of Fatalities

60 50 40 30 20 10

Month

Figure 2.3:  Seasonal Occurrence of Avalanche Fatalities 1860-1999 Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 6

December

November

October

September

August

July

June

May

April

March

February

January

0


Chapter 2:  Trends in Avalanche Accidents: 1860-1999

Age and Gender Although the details of many accidents are incomplete, it is likely that more than 90% of avalanche fatalities in this country have been male. If this statistic

is combined with the data presented in Figure 2.4 it can be concluded that most avalanche victims are males in their twenties.

Figure 2.4  Percentage of avalanche fatalities by age for 30 fatalities where age was documented.

Activities Before the 1940s most avalanche fatalities occurred as a result of people working in avalanche terrain (e.g. mustering or mining). With the discovery of gold, many people were drawn to the mountain regions of the South Island where the earliest historical account of avalanche involvement is in 1863. However, miners were secretive of their explorations and it is probable that many avalanche accidents occurred that never became public knowledge.

Since that time the vast majority of accidents have involved people undertaking a variety of recreation pursuits in alpine terrain. As we can see in Figure 2.5 and Table 2.1, most of those killed are alpine climbers. However, it is also worth noting the significant number of people who die while undertaking some form of avalanche or mountain training.

Mining 32%

Alpine Climbing 35%

Hunting 1% Mustering 2% Skiing in Area 3% Heli-Ski Road Work 1% 3%

Training 9%

Rescue 4%

Tramping 5% Ski Area Work 3% Ski Tour 2%

Figure 2.5:  Fatalities as a Percentage by Activity 1860-1999 Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 7


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

1860-1869

41

1870-1879

41 2

2

1880-1889

0

1890-1899

3

3

1900-1909

0

1910-1919

3

3

1920-1929

0

1930-1939

1

1940-1949

1

1950-1959

1 1

1970-1979 1980-1989

1

1990-1999 41

3

4

1

2

3

1960-1969

Totals

Totals

Ski Touring

Hunting

Heli-skiing

Road Work

Ski/Board in Ski Area

Ski Area Work

Tramping

Training Courses

Alpine Climbing

Rescue

Mustering

Year

Mining

Table 2.1:  Numbers of Fatalities by Activity 1860-1999

3

5

1

6

4

5

1

12

1

1

16

9

5

16

3

5

4

3

3

1

44

12

7

4

4

1

4

1

1

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 8

1

1

23

1

17

2

128


Chapter 2:  Trends in Avalanche Accidents: 1860-1999

Fatalities Related to Work Compared to Recreation Those fatalities resulting from avalanche while undertaking work or recreation activity are presented in Figure 2.6.

45

Note: Rescue has been considered a work activity. The 12 fatalities occurring on training courses have not been considered work or recreation and therefore not included in Figure 2.6.

41

40

30 25 20 17

15 11

0

3

0

0

Year

3

4 1

0

2

10

3

1

1

1

Work

3

19901999

0

19701979

0

19601969

0

19501959

3

19401949

0

19301939

18701879

18601869

0

0

19201929

0

19101919

2

19001909

0

18901899

5

10

19801989

10

18801889

Number of Fatalities

35

Recreation

Figure 2.6:  Fatalities (Recreation and Work Activity)

The number of work-related fatalities remain relatively static despite significant increases in the number of people working in the mountain environment. This probably is due to a number of factors including improvements in avalanche safety guidelines and industry practices, training, and management systems. However, in the period since 1960, recreation-related fatalities have increased. The higher numbers of recreation-related fatalities (in comparison to work-related fatalities) might be attributed to a number of factors including: • The increased number of people involved in winter mountain recreation; • The time constraints of short visits;

• A lower level of skills, knowledge and experience; • A lack of familiarity with the environment; • Less access to relevant information; • An absence of systematic decision making processes regarding snow stability and avalanche hazard; • A lower perception of avalanche hazard. However, the decisions required to ensure the safety of people in avalanche terrain are essentially the same regardless of whether the activity involves recreation or work.

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 9


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

Geographic Distribution The distribution of the 128 avalanche fatalities through the study period is presented in Figure 2.7.

Central Plateau Region: 7 Fatalities

Craigieburn Range: 4 Fatalities

West Coast: 1 Fatality

Torlesse Range: 3 Fatalities

Mt Cook Region: 34 Fatalities

Arthurs Pass Region: 9 Fatalities

Aspiring Region: 6 Fatalities

Rangitata/Mt Hutt Range: 4 Fatalities Two Thumbs Range: 4 Fatalities

Milford Region: 7 Fatalities

Ben Ohau Range: 2 Fatalities Ohau Range/Mackenzie Basin: 1 Fatality Central Otago Ranges: 46 Fatalities Figure 2.7:  Geographic distribution of Avalanche Fatalities 1860-1999

North Island and South Island Around 95% of the fatalities occurred in the South Island, while the remaining 5% occurred in the North Island. In the South Island, most fatalities occurred in the Mt Cook region (around 27%) and Central Otago Ranges (around 36%) (refer to Region Maps for location of events).

These figures likely reflect the focus of mining activity, backcountry recreation activity, and overall distribution of the ski areas in the South Island of New Zealand.

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 10


Chapter 2:  Trends in Avalanche Accidents: 1860-1999

Time of Day Accident records indicate that most avalanches involving fatalities occur in the afternoon (Figure 2.8). This may relate to: • Air temperature that usually peaks in the early afternoon; and • The time of day when the highest density of people in avalanche terrain is reached.

Night 15% Morning 33%

Afternoon 52%

Figure 2.8: Percentage of accidents occurring through morning, afternoon and night (for 27 accidents where time of day was indicated)

Trigger Most people are killed in avalanches that are either triggered by the victim, or other members of the victim’s party (Figure 2.9). However, almost 40% of avalanches involving fatalities resulted from factors that appeared to be unrelated to the victims or their party other than they had demonstrated poor route selection or location decisions in that they were in the runout zone at the time of the avalanche. It is possible that some witness accounts have interpreted a group’s involvement in an avalanche as coincidental rather than recognising their actions as a contributing factor to the occurrence. That is, victims or groups may have triggered avalanches from positions low in the track but considered the avalanche a natural occurrence since they were not in the proximity of the start zone and witness to the initial propagation. Should this be an accurate assessment, the proportion of avalanches initiated by victims or others in their group would be higher than 63%.

Self 17%

Natural 37%

Other in Group 46%

Figure 2.9: Percentage of avalanches as a result of a natural occurrence, or actions of the victim or the victims group (for 31 accidents where trigger was indicated)

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 11


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

Aspect Avalanches involving fatalities are not equally represented across all aspects, with 62% of fatal avalanches occurring on east, southeast and south facing slopes. This reflects the role played by wind loading in the formation of avalanches, since these aspects are lee to the prevailing northwest wind that accompanies most winter storm cycles. Snow is picked up by the wind on windward slopes and deposited on the more sheltered east, southeast and south facing slopes creating wind slab conditions. However, it could also reflect the longer duration of snow on southerly slopes, especially for spring and early summer avalanche accidents.

W 9%

NW 6%

N 9%

SW 6% S 15%

NE 9%

E 31% SE 15%

Figure 2.10: Slope Aspect (for 47 accidents where aspect was indicated).

Weather on the Day While inclement winter weather contributes to the formation of avalanche conditions primarily through precipitation and wind-loading, people are more likely to venture into avalanche terrain in fine weather when either commercial pressures (such as trying to operate a ski area) or opportunity to climb are present. Therefore, it is not surprising that 50% of avalanches that killed people occurred on clear days. It is also useful to note that in New Zealand, storm cycles often clear rapidly and access to snow covered terrain is relatively quick. Even though a storm

cycle may have passed, the hazard of avalanches resulting from direct action (i.e. directly related to new snow and wind loading) can linger for some time.

Storm 31%

Fine 50%

Deteriorating 20%

Figure 2.11: Weather at the time of avalanche (for 26 accidents where current weather was indicated)

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 12


Chapter 2:  Trends in Avalanche Accidents: 1860-1999

Terrain and Cause of Death The type of terrain that the avalanche occurs on has an impact on the way people die as a result of being caught. Where avalanches flow in confined terrain, over broken terrain or bluffs, victims are likely to suffer traumatic type injuries. Figure 2.12 presents a comparison of causes of death of 24 fatalities.

Asphyxia 54%

Trauma 46%

Figure 2.12: Factors Causing Death (for 24 accidents where cause of death was indicated)

Search and Rescue Information regarding transceiver use has been gathered by the NZMSC since 1990. Of the fatalities that occurred during that time where information on transceiver use was recorded: • 14 fatalities involved parties not using transceivers; • one fatality involved a party where some members used transceivers and some did not; • three fatalities involved parties where the use of transceivers is not known.

It is likely that at least 80% of avalanche fatalities between 1990 and 1998 involved victims who were not wearing avalanche transceivers. Between 1990 and 1998, there were 30 full burials of people reported, of which only 11 people survived. All (or nearly all) survivors of full burials were wearing transceivers, while all (or nearly all) of those who died were not.

Comparison with Overseas Avalanche Fatality Studies Several studies of avalanche fatalities have been undertaken in other mountainous countries. From these it is possible to compare a number of characteristics including absolute numbers of fatalities, trends over time and activities and characteristics of the victims of avalanche accidents. Because of the lack of information (both in this study and in the published literature) on avalanche

related characteristics such as time of day and type of avalanche and rescue related aspects such as depth of burial and cause of death, no comparisons of these features are attempted here. Total fatalities in alpine countries are reported by IKAR (International Commission on Alpine Rescue) as shown in Table 2.2 that also shows deaths per

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 13


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

capita. Total population is only a very crude measure of numbers of people in avalanche terrain but unfortunately there are very few other data available to give a better indication of participation rates. This table indicates that New Zealand

lies in an intermediate zone along with Slovenia, Slovakia, France, Canada and Italy between very high per capita fatalities of over 1.0 fatality/million/year and much lower rates of less than 0.2 fatalities/ million/year.

Table 2.2:  Avalanche fatalities by country Country

Fatalities/ Year

Fatalities/ Million/Year

France

30.3

0.52

Austria

26.1

3.26

Switzerland

22.8

3.17

USA

19.4

0.07

Italy

19.0

0.33

Canada

10.1

0.35

Norway

4.9

1.12

Spain

4.4

0.11

Slovakia

3.2

0.59

Poland

2.3

0.06

Germany

2.2

0.03

New Zealand

2.0

0.50

Slovenia

1.4

0.69

United Kingdom

1.0

0.02

Bulgaria

0.8

0.09

Croatia

0.8

0.15

Czech Republic

0.2

0.02

Liechtenstein

0.0

0.00

(IKAR Statistics: 1985/86-2000/01)

Trends over time in different countries seem to depend on the length of time that mountainous areas have been inhabited. For those countries with a long history of occupancy in the mountains, for example France, Switzerland, Norway and Austria, the record shows that in the long term, numbers of fatalities have decreased and in the last 40 to 50 years have remained relatively stable. An example of this pattern is shown for Austria in Figure

2.13. Meister (2001) has shown that the fluctuations from year to year for the European alpine countries result from different weather and snowpack conditions and are relatively similar from country to country. The most recent example of this effect was the large numbers of fatalities in France, Switzerland and Austria during the severe winter of 1998/99.

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 14


Chapter 2:  Trends in Avalanche Accidents: 1860-1999

160 140

Number of Fatalities

120 100 80 60 40 20 0 50

55

60

65

70

75

Year

80

85

90

95

00

Figure 2.13:  Avalanche fatalities in Austria (Höller, 1994; Höller pers. comm.)

In contrast to this pattern, countries with only relatively recently settled mountainous areas are characterised by recent increases in fatality numbers though they may have had high fatalities during periods of colonisation as a result of mining and development of transport links. The time series for the United States shown in Figure 2.14 almost directly parallels the New Zealand data (Figure 2.1) although the mining fatalities that make up the early period (mainly in Colorado) occurred at a slightly later date than the central Otago disaster. Increases in fatalities in recent decades clearly reflect increased numbers of people involved in recreation and possibly greater use of uncontrolled areas, though it is difficult to obtain hard data to back this up. Jamieson and Geldsetzer (1996) indicated that in Canada from 1976 to 1994, the numbers of recreationists were increasing at a faster rate than the fatalities.

Not surprisingly, most overseas studies show that fatalities are most common in the winter months with high numbers in January to March in Canada (Jamieson and Geldsetzer 1997) and the United States (Atkins and Williams 2000) and in January and February in France (Jarry and Sivardière 2000). Figure 2.3 shows that the peak occurrence tends to be shorter in New Zealand which may reflect the longer duration of snowcover in continental climates. However, none of the overseas studies showed as strong a secondary summer peak as seems to exist in New Zealand, probably as a result of a high level of climbing activity in December and January.

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 15


Number of Deaths Recorded

Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

Figure. 2.14:  Avalanche fatalities in the United States (Doesken and Judson 1996)

Very little information on age distributions of avalanche victims seems to be available. That which is available (Table 2.3) confirms the concentration in the 2029 year band. There seem to be fewer young fatalities in New Zealand, while in the older age groups, New Zealand is intermediate between the United States and Canada. Atkins and Williams (2000) report an increase in the age of avalanche victims in recent decades but the New Zealand data are too few to allow this to be identified. These trends in age distributions are probably related to the

activities of avalanche victims, particularly the recent increase in snowmobile use in avalanche terrain. However, over longer time periods, there has been a definite shift from non-recreation (or workrelated) fatalities to those associated with recreation in both relatively recently settled mountain areas and those where alpine settlements are well established. This is shown in Table 2.4 and in Figure 2.15. The latter demonstrates that in recent years, it is only in very severe winters such as 1998/99 that nonrecreation fatalities become a problem.

Table 2.3:  Percentage of fatalities in different age groups Age Range >60

Canada 1 (1984-96)

USA 2 (1950-99)

New Zealand (1860-99)

3

3 5

50 - 59

14

40 - 49

17

12

13

30 - 39

24

25

23

20 - 29

38

51

51

17

3

<20 1

7

6

Jamieson & Geldsetzer (1996),

2

Atkins & Williams (2000)

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 16


Chapter 2:  Trends in Avalanche Accidents: 1860-1999

Table 2.4:  Percentage of recreation and non-recreation fatalities for selected periods and countries. % NonRecreation

Country/Years

1

% Recreation

Source

Norway 1947-76 1977-97

62 44

38 56

Kristensen (1998)

70 1

30 99

Ikeda et al. (2000)

52 13

48 87

Fruitger (1977) Föhn & Schweizer (1996)

91 30

9 70

This study

Japan 1924-60 1961-92 Switzerland 1875-1975 1981-2001 New Zealand 1860-1959 1960-1999 1

Training accidents included in non-recreation

70

Buildings Traffic Free terrain

60

Fatalities

50 40 30 20 10 0

65

67

69

71

73

75

77

79

81

83

Year

85

87

89

91

93

95

97

99

01

Figure 2.15: Swiss avalanche fatalities by activity 1965/66 – 2000/01 (Föhn and Schweizer 1996 and Schweizer pers. comm.).

The specific activities involved in recent decades are more difficult to compare because of rapid changes in some countries (for example the rapid increase in snowmobile accidents in North America in recent decades), a lack of published material and particularly because different classifications are used in different countries. Table 2.5 compares

data obtained for two European countries and the United States and Canada. The categories of activities used in this and other studies have been combined in some cases to facilitate comparisons, even though this may lead to a loss of information. For example, no distinction between climbing and ice climbing has been made while for the French data,

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 17


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

off piste activities have been grouped with backcountry uses in the out of area ski/boarder category though it is realised that the latter includes activities such as snowshoe walking. The training category has been retained even though Norway is the only other country that the authors are aware of that has reported data of this type. In the case of Norway almost all training fatalities arose from one disastrous accident which led to the death of sixteen soldiers (Lied 1988). This

is the only significant point of similarity between New Zealand and Norway, which as previously noted, has a very high proportion of non-recreation related fatalities. When comparing the New Zealand data with other countries shown in the table, the other main points are the relatively high proportion of climbing fatalities, the low proportion of out of area deaths and the significantly higher proportion of in area fatalities.

Table 2.5:  Activities of avalanche victims in different countries over recent decades as percentage of total fatalities. Country Years

USA 1 1985-01

Canada 2 1984-96

France 3 1989-99

Climbing

16

21

18

2

55

Out of area ski/boarder

40

50

71

37

5

3

0

4

0

11

Snowmobilers

25

20

0

2

0

Other recreation

10

6

0

4

0

Traffic

1

0

0

4

0

Residents

2

3

4

28

0

Other work

2

0

3

16

2

Training

0

0

0

7

22

327

114

316

270

55

In area skiers and patrollers

Total numbers of fatalities 1 2 3 4 5

Norway 1947-97

4

NZ 5 1970-99

http://geosurvey.state.co.us/avalanche/US_World_stats/2001-02/US2001-02.html Jamieson & Geldsetzer (1996) Jarry & Sivardière (2000) Kristensen (1998) This study

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 18


Chapter 2:  Trends in Avalanche Accidents: 1860-1999

Images of Aotearoa-New Zealand Chapter 2 has discussed the nature and circumstances of avalanche fatalities in this country and related those statistics to data from other parts of the world. In many ways what is experienced in New Zealand is unique. The majority of the population is located in the coastal margins, plains and foothills, well removed from the constant reminder of avalanches as experienced by those inhabiting the alpine regions of North America and Europe. Yet significant avalanche problems do exist and the following colour photographs and text present an insight into the avalanche phenomena in this country. Photo 2.1: Broken River avalanche August 1992 showing slab failure and rain runnels – The New Zealand mountain climate is windy and warm (compared to similar latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere) with total precipitation amounts that vary markedly over short distances. Even in mid-winter rain to ridge line is possible in most areas such that wet slab instability presents a significant hazard. Photo 2.2: Avalanche search in the run out zone of the Broken River avalanche showing large snowballs and shear zones. Photo 2.3: Aoraki-Mt Cook – The maritime climate coupled with the significant orographic effects of the terrain combine to produce rapidly changing weather and avalanche conditions. Photo 2.4: Mt Richmond Slab Avalanche – Avalanches in New Zealand tend to be the result of the direct action of wind and snow to produce slab conditions although deep pack instability is also a feature in many areas. Photo 2.5: Avalanche onto Milford Road, and 2.11: Cleaning Debris off Milford Road – The Milford Road passes through some of the most spectacular avalanche terrain in the world and effective management systems have been developed to deal with this danger. However, increasing traffic en-route to and from Milford Sound remains a concern for those involved in the programme. Photo 2.6: Climbers and Crevasse, 2.7: Heli Skiers; 2.8: Ice Climber and 2.12: Powder Skier – Recreation pursuits account for most avalanche accidents. Winter activities remain popular but of particular interest is the significant number of avalanche deaths in the summer months involving climbers. Photo 2.9 and 2.10: Skiers Avalanched into Crater Lake of Mt Ruapehu – A recent development in the alpine regions of this country has been the increased presence of commercial filming activity for feature films, videos and magazines. Photos 2.9 and 2.10 record the involvement of two skiers caught by an avalanche on Mt Ruapehu and carried into the Crater Lake while involved in a professional photo shoot for an Australian magazine. Remarkably, neither skier was injured.

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 19


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

Photo 2.1:  Broken River fracture line and rain runnels 1992. (Photo: Peter Simpson)

Photo 2.2:  Probe line on avalanche debris, Broken River avalanche 1992. (Photo: Peter Simpson) Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 20


Chapter 2:  Trends in Avalanche Accidents: 1860-1999

Photo 2.3:  Mt Cook (Photo: Will MacQueen)

Photo 2.4:  Mt Richmond August 1979. (Photo: Colin Monteath) Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 21


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

Photo 2.5:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Airborne Avalanche, Milford Road. (Photo: Wayne Carran) Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 22


Chapter 2:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Trends in Avalanche Accidents: 1860-1999

Photo 2.6:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Climbers and Cravasse. (Photo: Will MacQueen) Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 23


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

Photo 2.7:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Heli Skiers. (Photo: Will MacQueen) Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 24


Chapter 2:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Trends in Avalanche Accidents: 1860-1999

Photo 2.8:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Ice Climber (Photo: Will MacQueen) Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 25


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

Photo 2.9:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Skiers caught in Avalanche, Mt Ruapehu. (Photo: Bill Bachman) Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 26


Chapter 2:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Trends in Avalanche Accidents: 1860-1999

Photo 2.10:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Skiers swept into Crater Lake, Mt Ruapehu. (Photo: Bill Bachman) Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 27


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

Photo 2.11:  Diggers clearning debris off Milford Road. (Photo: Peter Weir)

Photo 2.12:  Powder Skier. (Photo: Will MacQueen) Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 28


Chapter 2:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Trends in Avalanche Accidents: 1860-1999

Region Map 1:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Milford Road and Fiordland

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 29


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

Region Map 2:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Mt Aspiring National Park

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 30


Chapter 2:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Trends in Avalanche Accidents: 1860-1999

Region Map 3:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Mackenzie Basin and surrounding ranges

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 31


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

Region Map 4:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 32


Chapter 2:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Trends in Avalanche Accidents: 1860-1999

Region Map 5:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Two Thumbs Range

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 33


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

Region Map 6:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Craigieburn Range

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 34


Chapter 2:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Trends in Avalanche Accidents: 1860-1999

Region Map 7:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Arthurs Pass

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 35


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

Region Map 8:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Mt Ruapehu, Tongariro National Park

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 36


Chapter 3

Personal Accounts of Avalanche Accidents and Self–Rescue There are many avalanche events that do not result in the deaths of those involved. A range of factors can mitigate the consequences of being caught in an avalanche, including: • The level of preparedness • Decision making and actions taken by the individual or group

• Level of terrain and hazard awareness • Rescue responsiveness • Self-assessment of errors, oversights, and corrective behaviour. These factors all increase the odds of survival. The following three accounts involving different activities illustrate how the severity of each incident was reduced.

Heli-skiing on the Monk Glacier Contributed by members of the NZMGA On July 11th 1997 a series of slab avalanches buried a total of six skiers (skiing with Wilderness Heliski) in the Monk Glacier area of the Liebig Range, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. All six skiers were rescued without injury. The incident was preceded by a long period of fine weather. The early winter snowpack was shallow and contained layers of large facets and hard crusts. There also was a well-developed layer of surface hoar in the region. The clear weather ended when a strong, warm northwest airflow deposited 60cm of snow on the Liebig Range along with 175mm of rain in Mount Cook Village. Following that, a cold southerly change deposited an additional 10cm of snow on the Liebig Range. Methven Heliski reported similar snowpack conditions to the north and

Harris Mountains Heliski had similar conditions to the south of the Mt Cook region. A widespread instability issue now existed through the greater part of the Southern Alps. On the morning of the 11th, Wilderness Heliski rated the snow stability as Fair. The assumption, based on previous experience, was that the surface hoar layer would have been at least partially destroyed by the warm temperatures and strong winds during the northwesterly cycle. Any remaining weaknesses should then have been destroyed by the expected avalanche cycle within the storm. Over the course of the day the guides would collect information and update this assessment as required. During an early morning fuel drop, widespread avalanche activity was noted

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 37


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

in the Jollie Valley, adjacent to the Monk. The guides flew in early. The lead guide established that the first ski run had avalanched during the storm. On arrival, the clients were divided into two groups to ski this run and then flew on to the Monk Glacier for a second run. Despite the entry to the run being relatively steep, the Monk is considered to be of a low enough angle as to be suitable for guiding during periods of high avalanche danger. The run had been extensively skied prior to the storm cycle and the guides suspected this had helped to break down the surface hoar layer. The lead guide observed size 0.5 loose snow avalanches from the headwalls of the Monk. This re-affirmed the stability evaluation since no larger avalanches had been triggered. The lead guide considered doing a test profile but believed there were no locations at the landing site that were relevant to the stability of the majority of the run below. He traversed out onto the slope, testing the snow with his ski pole and skis. He felt a light wind slab but this disappeared as he moved further onto the slope. He decided that the run was skiable provided that it was guided conservatively. The lead guide skied his clients down the first pitch of the run, instructing them to stay to the right of his tracks. He radioed the second guide and advised him to watch for wind slab at the first roll-over before skiing down the run with his group. The second guide, followed by his group, skied to a knoll approximately 100 vertical metres below the top of the run. As he got to the knoll he felt the snow settle under

his skis and looked up for the position of his last skier. He observed a slab avalanche in progress, apparently initiated from the steep headwalls on the other side of the cirque. His last skier was not visible and he called an avalanche alert on his radio. The lead guide was approximately halfway down the run when he heard the other guideâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s call. He looked back and saw the avalanche bearing down on his group and was able to make an emergency radio call to base before being hit by the windblast and then by the moving mass of snow. He was pushed up against a big rock and partially buried while the remaining skiers in this group were completely buried. The guide extricated himself and immediately started a methodical search for his clients. Within a short timeframe, he located the signals of the buried transceivers and dug out each client. One client required resuscitation but recovered. The guide with the second group also searched for and found the missing skier from his group within a short period. By this time, the helicopter had picked up several other guides working nearby and dropped them onto the search site. Additional rescue personnel from DOC and Alpine Guides also arrived on the scene. The avalanche that hit the lower group started on terrain that was separated from the ski run by a broad rocky ridge. The path was steep and this allowed the avalanche to gain considerable force. What was noteworthy was that the propagation occurred across significant terrain barriers. The second guideâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s party was the most likely trigger of the avalanches. Thus the actual threat to the

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 38


Chapter 3: Personal Accounts of Avalanche Accidents and Self-Rescue

skiers on the gentle slopes of the lower valley was higher than may have been perceived. In hindsight, one may argue that the extent to which the instability persisted and the potential hazard it created was underestimated. However, no one, in 25 years of guiding history, had seen an event in the Monk of this magnitude. The extent to which the deep instability

prevailed was atypical of our maritime climate where, more often than not, the surface hoar crystals are largely destroyed during storm cycles. The fact that all those buried were recovered quickly with no loss to life is testimony to the guides’ experience and sound avalanche rescue training. Had this not been the case the number buried and the consequences of burial could have been a lot more serious.

Ski Touring in Mt Cook National Park By Mark Sedon

We had been living in the snow for six days and high up on the Tasman Glacier we skied slopes on which few people had ever skied before. It is mid winter and there is fresh powder snow everywhere. Today was our last day on the glacier and we wanted to ski a formidable looking steep 55° face of Mt Green. Un f o r t u n a t e l y t h e w e a t h e r w a s deteriorating. The wind had increased, and was blowing a heap of snow around. After a couple of hours climbing I was worried about the slope above us. A lot of snow was being deposited on it and presented a very real avalanche danger. So we decided to turn back and to ski the fantastic looking slope below us. Kane Henderson (my climbing partner) normally skied first since I was more experienced with an avalanche transceiver (ski patrolling for five years makes you practice or else it costs you beer) so off he went. He skied carefully and the snow

looked good until near the bottom where he set off a small slide, 15m across by 10cm deep. It wasn’t a big avalanche, and he was able to ski off to the side where he waited under the shelter of an ice cliff, so that he could watch me come down. Avalanche activity is a sure sign of avalanche danger. I should have turned back and gone another way, but it was only a small slide and it stopped well before the small crevasse a little way out from the bottom of the slope. I started down and found the skiing very enjoyable in knee deep snow. About half way down I noticed the snow was a little stiffer. At that moment the ground started moving under me. AVALANCHE!! I looked behind me and saw the 1m deep crown way uphill from me. There was no chance of jumping off the back. I looked right then left, and realised I was in serious trouble, the slab was 60-80m across and I was in the middle.

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 39


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

I was sort of treading water, trying to stay on top of the snow and inch my way to the side when the earth collapsed under me. It went dark as I felt myself falling. I hit something else and at the same instant the snow pounded down on top of me. Instantly I started thrashing my head back and forth. I could only move it about 2cm and I was choking on the snow jammed in my mouth. I tried to chew it and spit some out. My left arm was stuck straight out but my right hand was next to my chin so I was able to push some of the snow away from my face. I was just about to pass out when I cleared my mouth of snow and was able to take in a breath. I was in serious trouble, it was dark and I couldn’t move. I yelled to Kane but heard no reply. I thought I would pass out soon and drift into a deep sleep, never to regain consciousness. I said sorry to my family and goodbye. Normally Kane would have been able to find me in two or three minutes by using our avalanche transceivers. But I had been swept into a deep crevasse, maybe 10-20m under the surface. My mind was racing, I was angry with myself for getting into this situation; I should have known. I tried to move my legs, and a surge of hope hit me, I could move my right foot. I started to wiggle my torso and I saw some light creep along my body. I frantically dug with my free hand until it was at my knee. But the snow collapsed, once again jamming my mouth. Again I had to chew and spit out the snow. “I must get out,” I thought, so once again I started digging. Slowly I was able to dig a hole big enough to enable me to undo my pack straps then wiggle my body up and out of my coffin of snow and ice.

I was out! Well almost, I was in a cave of ice with an opening to one end, which I leaned through. That’s when I heard Kane’s reply to my yells. He was rappelling down the vertical walls of the crevasse, avalanche transceiver bleeping loudly and shovel in hand. Amazingly, I had been thrown onto a small snow bridge 10m down. The hole, which I had been tossed through, was barely half the size of a doorway, which I hit at about a 60° angle. The main crevasse was 20-30m deep and was full with debris up to about 10m from the surface. If I had been 50cm to the right I would have been buried under all that snow and it would have taken Kane hours to dig me out. I climbed up the rope that Kane had placed while he looked for my gear. Once on the surface I collapsed on the ground, overwhelmed by emotion and cried my heart out. Then the physical pain set in, my leg and back ached so much I thought I might be sick. Kane found my skis and poles but I’d lost my hat, glove, sunglasses and goggles, which were ripped from me during the slide. Lucky for me I could ski but we were a long way from any help. I was hot, but also shaking uncontrollably. We had to make it to the ‘De la Beche Hut’ before dark, about 7km away down the Tasman Glacier. It took us four hours and we arrived just as it started to rain. We rested the following day. I was stiff and sore and could hardly move. The day after that it was time to leave as a storm was coming and we weren’t sure how long it would last.

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 40


Chapter 3: Personal Accounts of Avalanche Accidents and Self-Rescue

It was a long day, my back ached and I wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t able to pick up my pack alone. I ran out of pain-killers around midday and my leg sent up a sharp whip of pain with every step. I wanted to lie down and give up. But I made myself think of other places or other things like chocolate, or a hot shower to keep myself going. I mentally removed myself from the situation and

relied on instinct. For ten hours Kane broke trail and we finally made it to the road just after dark. The next day we drove to Christchurch Public Hospital. Thankfully my leg was just bruised but my back was broken with a stable hairline fracture of one of the lumbar vertebrae. I consider myself lucky to be alive.

Avalanche Control at the Remarkables Ski Area By Matt Wilkinson

The year 1991 was a horror show in the Southern Lakes area. The combination of an early snowfall in June followed by two weeks of very cold and clear weather (with minimums of -14°C) set up acute depth hoar in the base of the snow pack. This caused a lot of problems culminating in heli-bombing on the ski area with the majority of avalanche paths producing large slides running on the depth hoar. I was one of two patrollers on an avalanche control route in the Alta Chutes at the Remarkables Ski Area (the Alta Chutes was the last control route to be completed before the whole of the ski area would be open for the first time in the season). We had completed the control work with no results to the top of the chute called Escalator. Escalator is steep with rock on both sides, opening into a wider slope beneath. We put a 1.5kg hand charge in the chute, which produced no result. In the test profile we dug we could see depth hoar at the base of the snow pack but decided

that the slab was sufficiently supported by the rocks on either side of the slope and therefore was unlikely to produce an avalanche. We skied down the chute to where it opened out and parked up in a safe location on the side of the gully. I looked at the slope below and felt uncomfortable â&#x20AC;&#x201C; I had one more hand charge in my pack and briefly thought about deploying it. However I dismissed my paranoid feeling by telling myself that the slope had not produced an avalanche in the history of the ski area. That was mistake number one. The other patroller then headed down to the bottom left hand side of the slope and waited in a position identified in the past as a safe spot (from where observers could watch their partners on the avalanche path). However given the conditions, the location was not safe at all. That was mistake number two. I skied onto the slope and made about six turns before I stopped. I remember prodding the snow with my ski pole

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 41


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

and thinking that the slope had a “tight” feeling to it. I was not totally happy but I started to ski again. After about four more turns I had the sensation of being pushed onto the back of my skis. I then realised that the whole slope that I was on was moving. I could see in my peripheral vision large blocks of snow breaking up and there was a very loud grating sound. I accelerated downhill and then pulled into a long turn to the left. The left flank was about 80m from where I had started. As I exited the moving debris at the flank I turned into a human windmill. Imagine stepping out of a moving vehicle at 80km an hour. I was incredibly lucky not to hit anything as I tumbled through an area of protruding rocks. When everything stopped I jumped up expecting the other patroller to be standing beside me shaking his head at my performance but there was only silence. I called out his name as the realisation that he was buried set in. I went into autopilot. I called base, advised of the situation, and asked for backup. I turned off my radio so that it wouldn’t interfere with the transceiver search. I found and probed the patroller in less than a minute. I advised base and requested that a medical team be brought to site via helicopter. I then started to dig like a man possessed. I found his hand 50cm down and gave it a squeeze but got no response. After four minutes I exposed his face and he did not appear to be breathing. I continued to clear his back and chest and he started to breathe again by himself. At this time two other patrollers arrived and assisted in the rest of the digging.

His legs and arms were all twisted up to a point that it appeared that he had sustained a lot of injury. Amazingly, as we continued to dig him out, his level of consciousness increased and it appeared that he didn’t have any injuries at all. He stood up and brushed himself off and at the time he seemed very relaxed. In contrast, I was a physical and emotional wreck. About this time the rest of the rescue team arrived and the whole thing ended. The avalanche had cut out the whole head wall at the bottom of the confined chute and propagated 30m to the right and 100m to the left. The crown wall was 1.8m deep. The extent of the propagation to the left was what created the problem for the other patroller. The stauchwall was basically at his feet and instantly swept him off his rock and buried him a further 80m down the hill, 1.5m under the snow surface. The avalanche ran on a small layer of pronounced facets and was a generous size 3. It was amazing after two weeks with no snowfall that this avalanche occurred. I put it down to continued cold temperatures on a shady aspect and tension building caused by creep and glide. I have carried the following lessons from this event: • Think terrain not history. Has a slope the right terrain features to produce an avalanche – yes or no? • Select bombproof safe locations given the conditions that are being worked with at the time. • Listen to your instincts. That prickly feeling probably has some basis for being there.

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 42


Chapter 4

Accounts of Avalanche Accidents 1 Serpentine Gully, near Dunstan (14 August 1863) (Fig. 1.1) Mining camp; 50 caught, 41 killed

In 1863, a period of fine weather signalled the end to what had been a very wet winter (more than 100 lives were lost to floods and landslides in Otago). Rich gold claims in alpine regions abandoned before the winter were again excavated. However, the fine weather did not last, and fifty prospectors were camped at the head of the Serpentine Gully near Dunstan (16km from the Blackball Hotel) when a “very heavy snow storm” hammered the main divide.

At the foot of a large cliff, the prospectors had established their camp with the tents grouped close together for safety. On the morning of the 14th of August an avalanche produced on slopes above the cliff swept down and engulfed the camp. Nine prospectors (whose tents had been located on the outskirts of the camp) were able to run to safety. The others were buried under 16m of debris.

Source: Grayland, (1957, page 50) The Press, 25 August 1863, page 2

2 Avalanche Creek, Rollesby Range (24 July 1879) (Map 3) Mustering sheep; 2 caught, 2 killed

Rollesby Station is located near Burkes Pass, and extends into the Rollesby Range. A number of temperate winters had encouraged the holders of Rollesby Station (and many other farmers) to maintain high stock levels through the winter months. However, in July 1879, successive heavy storms dumped more than a metre of snow in the

high country and the sheep had to be brought down to lower elevations. The son of the station owner and the Head Shepherd at Rollesby lost their lives in an avalanche while mustering on slopes of the Rollesby Range at the head of what is now known as Avalanche Creek. Their bodies were recovered six weeks

Source: Vance, (1965, pages 94, 205-207) Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 43


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

3 Mt Nobbler, Kakanui Range (1-2 August 1891) (Fig. 1.1) Rescue party; 3 caught, 3 killed

On Friday the 1st of August a ‘young lad’ of 15 years was thought to be lost in the hills. The weather was described as very severe and searchers were organised and dispatched early the next day. Among the searchers was the brother of the missing teenager who spent the day searching along with a party of eight others. Three of the searchers (including the brother of the missing lad) were making their way along a ridge top when, without warning, they suddenly disappeared from the sight of their companions. It appeared the snow beneath their feet ‘gave way’. An avalanche completely enveloped them and slid for some 400m into the gully below and over a 15m cliff before finally coming to rest.

Search efforts were intensified the following morning and 200 men from Kyeburn made their way into the hills. While investigating the last known location of the missing searchers, a cap was found on the ridge top and was identified as belonging to one of the missing men. A search of the debris on the slopes below eventually found the three missing men. They were about 20m apart, one them located under 2-3m of debris. It was thought that two of the men died of injuries sustained from the fall while the third may have lived for some time after the avalanche stopped moving.

Source: The Press, 4 August 1891, page 6

4 Linda Glacier, Mt Cook National Park (22 February 1914) (Map 4) Alpine climbing; 3 caught, 3 killed

On Friday afternoon two separate climbing parties left the village intending to climb Mt Cook. The first party, consisting of a well-known member of the English Alpine Club accompanied by two experienced local guides, headed for Ball Hut in order to attempt Mt Cook from the Tasman side. The other threemember party intended to summit from the Hooker side. The first group of climbers was observed on the summit in perfect weather at midday on Sunday, after which they

descended towards the Tasman. The second group reached the summit a little after 5.00 pm and then followed in the steps of the first party down to the Linda Glacier. By this time the debris of several avalanches was covering the Glacier. The second party continued to follow the tracks over the debris of two “big avalanches” near the head of the glacier. They eventually encountered a “huge” avalanche around the bend of the Linda, near the Silberhorn corner. The avalanche had come off the overhanging ice wall on

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 44


Chapter 4: Accounts of Avalanche Accidents

the Linda Glacier between the Silberhorn and Teichelman peaks. Crossing this they again encountered tracks, but it was now evident these had been left by the first party in their ascent not descent. No further evidence of the first party’s descent was found. The second party reached the bivouac at 2.30 am and finding the Englishman’s party had not arrived, returned hastily to the village. The weather on Monday night was described as “vile” but despite this the

Head Guide, who had travelled to Hooker hut that day, went in search of “his boys”. At daylight on Tuesday all available guides from the Hermitage joined the search in the hope of finding the missing party alive. However, the searchers found no trace of the missing men. It was thought that since the glacier was very crevassed in the vicinity of the avalanche, it was likely that the party would have been swept into one and buried.

Source: The Press, 25 February 1914, page 10

5 Avalanche Peak, Arthurs Pass National Park (30 July 1933) (Map 7) Alpine climbing; 1 killed

During the winter of 1933 thirty to forty enthusiastic climbers set out for the summit of Avalanche Peak. The assembly was a casual collection of individual climbers and members of a climbing club but it was not an organised group and there were no apparent leaders. On the climb to the bush line, the party thinned out with some members of the group returning to Arthurs Pass Village. The climbers who continued on were fit and well prepared for the upper slopes. The weather was fine but there was a heavy northwest wind blowing. As the group continued toward the summit, one member led, kicking in steps, while the others followed in single file. The route ascended the ridge until the low peak was reached. At this point the wind was very strong. Driving snow made conditions frightening and unpleasant. The group

opted to drop into the basin between the two ridges and continue the ascent up the face of the peak. Snow conditions were soft on the surface but firmer underneath. The group was 60m from the top when the snow began to break away just ahead of the leader (Figure 4.1). Most of the group was swept 150m down the basin where the debris came to rest. One or two at the rear of the group managed to get clear of the avalanche. The avalanche was 30m wide with a crown wall of 2.4m. After the members of the summit party had extracted themselves, a count was made and all were satisfied that the party was intact. A few minor injuries were sustained but all were able to descend without assistance. A few members made a search of the site as a precautionary measure and to recover a number of lost ice axes.

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 45


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

Figure 4.1: Searchers on debris below Avalanche Peak 30 July 1933: A - Avalanche Peak; X - avalanche path; Y - where the party was caught (Photo: NZMSC archives). Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 46


Chapter 4: Accounts of Avalanche Accidents

It was not until the group was on the train, returning to Christchurch, that it was discovered that one person was missing. The following day a search party attempted to reach the avalanche site but was forced to turn back due to bad weather. It was not until the 6th of August that another search party was able to begin a search of the debris (Figure 4.2). The body of a young man was found at the toe of the avalanche. The following account written by one of the searchers illustrates the level of understanding of avalanche knowledge at the time. The accident occurred in a corrie â&#x20AC;&#x201C; a crescent shaped hollow flanked by rounded ridges leading to the summit. Snow accumulates in the central part of the corrie by wind transport from the NW and SW. The upper part of the corrie contains several steep couloirs, which carry the drainage from the upper parts of the mountain. The lower part of the corrie is a shallow basin, the natural

runout zone to the drainage. Average slope angle is 35 degrees. During northwest conditions, especially if it was raining to 5000-6000ft. (1500 1800m), the snow in the corrie would always be in a readiness to generate avalanches, especially if a latter fall were lying on an old hard surface of a previous fall. This state of readiness would be assisted by water seepage from the rocks above. Climbing in the corrie with these conditions would be highly dangerous. As the climbing party ascended the central part of the corrie, to avoid the wind, there may not have been indications of dangerous or unstable conditions in the snow on which they were climbing. The greater danger was the snow slopes above. As the snow broke away some distance above the leader, the party did not trigger the avalanche themselves. Rather it was because the steep snow in the couloirs was saturated and heavy with water, had lost its coherence and was ready to come down at any moment.

Figure 4.2:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Searchers on debris below Avalanche Peak (Photo: NZMSC archives)

Source: New Zealand Alpine Journal, 1934, Number 5, pages 444 - 446 Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 47


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

6 Homer Tunnel, Milford Road (6 July 1936) (Map 1) Tunnel workers; 7 caught, 1 killed

Work on the inland (east) portal of Homer Tunnel began in July 1935. Avalanches in winter and water from melting snow coupled with constant rain in summer created problems. In the winter of 1936, repeated avalanches of “lumpy wet snow” caused considerable damage (Figures 4.3, 4.4).

Through the winter months it was usual for the Public Works Department to post an observer outside the tunnel with a whistle to warn of avalanches. Despite the precaution, an avalanche on the 6th of July killed one man and injured several others who were involved with the tunnel project.

Figure 4.3:  Clearing Avalanche Debris from the Homer Tunnel Portal, 1936 (Photo: NZMSC Archives).

Source: Anderson (1994, page 110) Smith, (1947, page 491)

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Chapter 4: Accounts of Avalanche Accidents

7 Homer Tunnel, Milford Road (4 May 1937) (Map 1) Tunnel workers; 3 injured, 2 killed

At 9.50 am on the 4th of May 1937 while men were working near the portal of the Homer Tunnel project, an avalanche crashed down the mountainside killing two of the men and seriously injuring three others. The avalanche hit without warning and there was no chance of escape.

It was early in the season for avalanches. However, a heavy fall of around 40cm of snow followed by two days of warm winds created unstable snow conditions leading to the event. Ten minutes after the first avalanche hit a second avalanche came down and demolished a hut. It was reported that wind-blast did the damage.

Figure 4.4:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Avalanche Damage at the Homer Tunnel Portal, 1936 (Photo: NZMSC Archives).

Source: The Press, 5 May 1937, page 10 Anderson (1994, page 110) Smith, (1947, page 491)

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Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

8 Temple Basin, Arthurs Pass National Park (27 August 1942) (Map 7) Skiing; 3 caught, 1 fatality

The first group of the 1942 season to visit the Christchurch Ski Club hut at Temple Basin arrived on the 24th of August to clearing weather. Prior to the groupâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s arrival there had been ten days of stormy weather which had plastered the Temple Basin slopes with up to 60cm of new powder snow. The following day skiing conditions were perfect with hot, sunny weather and no wind. By nightfall, however, the wind had shifted to the southwest and blizzard conditions developed. On the morning of the 27th of August, the strong and bitterly cold winds forced everyone indoors until about mid-day when the winds relented sufficiently to enable the keener skiers onto the slopes. The extreme winds and cold temperatures had left the powder snow packed solid and glazed icy patches could be seen on the exposed slopes of the ski area. During mid-afternoon the skifield instructor took a group of the more advanced skiers for a short run on the Cassidy slopes. He considered that the skiing conditions would be more favourable on these lee slopes and they would be less exposed to the prevailing wind. The Cassidy slopes are not completely sheltered to winds from the southwest and the snow eddied and drifted around the skiers. The ski instructor led a man and two women up the far side of a creek that led on to the Cassidy slopes. They followed the creek for about twenty minutes, at which point the instructor struck up a shallow, snow filled gully in preference to the more open slopes to the right. He

ascended the gully in a series of short traverses with kick turns, keeping to the gully for its full length. The others followed but the man soon tired of the steep ascent and opted for an easier angled but longer traverse out to one side of the gully. The two women, also tiring in the soft snow, traversed out of the gully to rest. The instructor continued his ascent in the steepening gully. The snow on the Cassidy face, which included the gully, was evenly covered with a thin layer of new snow and it appeared to be an ideal ski run. No one had any concern about the security of the slope. No avalanches had ever been reported on this slope or in fact anywhere in the Temple area. The instructor reached a point in the gully where the gradient steepened considerably. He was obscured from the othersâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; view when the avalanche started. The snow broke away silently and without warning, sweeping him down the gully with it. The two women knew nothing of what had happened until they saw their instructor being swept passed them, buried up to his shoulders in a churning mass of snow. Then the avalanche hit them, knocked them off their feet and carried them some 70m down the slope. The other man, who was well clear of the avalanche at the time, was alerted to what had happened when he saw the debris pile up at the bottom of the slope and the women digging themselves out of the avalanche debris. They alerted him that the instructor had also been caught in the avalanche. The man immediately

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Chapter 4: Accounts of Avalanche Accidents

removed his skis and ran down the slope to where the two women were. From there, one of the instructor’s skis could be seen a further 30m down the slope. Rushing to that point, the three of them started digging with their skis. They soon discovered that the instructor was buried head down in the debris. The skis proved to be totally inadequate for digging so one person went to the hut to raise the alarm and find some shovels. The other two frantically continued to dig with their gloved hands. The first part of the instructor’s body to be uncovered was his feet and it was evident that he was unconscious, as there was no movement. After about forty minutes his head was finally uncovered but there was no sign of life. His arms were fully outstretched with his ski poles still strapped to his wrists. It appeared that the weight of the snow on the ski pole baskets had caused him to be buried so deeply.

There was so much pressure and holding force on his head and shoulders, 1.5m below the surface, that he could not be freed until the ski poles were completely uncovered. Rescue breathing was started at once and was continued for two hours. Hot water bottles, blankets and massaging were applied but the instructor did not regain consciousness and died at the scene. The following day, senior members of the Christchurch Ski Club carried out a full examination of the accident site. The following information was recorded. Slope angle: Start zone: 40° Track: 30° - 32° Runout zone: 10° Crown wall width:150m, propagating a further 20m. Propagation cracks extended 300m up the slope. 200m Length of avalanche: Deposition depth: 3m

Source: New Zealand Alpine Journal 10, 1943, pages 69–72

9 White Col, Arthurs Pass National Park (15 August 1944) (Fig. 1.1) Alpine climbing; 3 caught, 1 killed

After spending the night in the Carrington Hut, a group of four climbers were crossing from the Waimakariri basin to the Wilberforce. At around 11.30 am, while on the steep slopes of the White Col, three of the climbers were caught by an avalanche and carried down the slope about 500m. Two of the three caught by the avalanche managed to struggle free and were quickly joined by the remaining

climber. These three then began to search for the fourth member of their group who was buried. Although they found an ice axe, they could find no sign of the missing climber. Eventually the survivors left the site of the avalanche to get help, travelling to Glenthorne Station in the Wilberforce valley about 26km away where they arrived around midnight. The following

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Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

morning they informed the police in Christchurch. A police constable and a party of five experienced members from the Canterbury Mountaineering Club were organised to search for the body of the missing climber.

The deceased was described as an experienced mountaineer and was said to have an expert knowledge of snow conditions. It was thought at the time that the avalanche was initiated by the weight of the climbers on the snow slope they were crossing.

Source: The Press, 17 August 1944

10 Rubicon Peak, Torlesse Range, Canterbury (22 July 1950) (Map 6) Alpine climbing; 4 caught, 3 fatalities

The Torlesse range is a popular destination for Christchurch climbers. A short drive to Porters Pass provides a good choice of day trips for trampers and climbers. On the 22nd of July 1950, a party of four men departed for Rubicon Peak from Porters Pass. All of the men had been climbing for at least one season, although they had little experience with winter conditions. Their planned route was straightforward; from the valley floor they would follow a spur to a ridge and then on to the summit. The ridge allowed height to be gained easily but was exposed to the strong winds. Bitterly cold temperatures and swirling snow impeded the menâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s progress and the climb took much longer than they expected. At 2.00 pm the group had not reached the summit, and as one member had experienced cramp the men decided to turn around. The foursome chose to rest for a time before heading down. While taking shelter on the lee side of the ridge, a decision was made to avoid the windy conditions and return to the valley floor

via the slope below them. The party had been roped together during the ascent and began the descent in similar fashion. The first man led off in a descending sidle but he was alerted by a loud call from behind. As he turned, he could see his three companions being tumbled on a slab of snow about an acre in size. He was engulfed in the avalanche and lost sight of his comrades. The sliding snow piled up in a narrow rock bound gully above a waterfall with the avalanche debris extending over an area of about 300m in length and over 25m in width. The only survivor was the man who led the group off the ridge and miraculously, he was uninjured. Buried to his neck in a kneeling position, he was able to dig himself out as one of his arms was free. The remaining three were completely buried at depths of up to 2.5m and within 3.5m of each other. It appeared that they were all killed instantly and had all incurred multiple fractures. Five days prior to the accident dry powder snow had fallen in the area, over a frozen

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Chapter 4: Accounts of Avalanche Accidents

icy surface. The interim days had been fine and frosty with little or no wind. On the day of the accident a very strong

northwest wind developed, blowing snow into the gullies and lee slopes.

Source: New Zealand Alpine Journal 14, 1952, pages 378-379

11 Lochaber, South Canterbury (24 July 1954) (Map 3) Mustering; 1 caught, 1 killed

The winter of 1954 was cold and bleak in the South Island high country. Run holders had experienced numerous icy blizzards from the south during the early winter months and even the foothills lay under a smooth blanket of snow. Throughout the high country, musterers worked long hours in a desperate struggle to save stock from winterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s grip on the land. At Lochaber Station, near Fairlie, conditions were no different. On the 24th of July, a musterer was working the hill country, searching the snowdrifts for stock, when the slope he was standing

on collapsed around him. There were no witnesses to the accident. However, a subsequent search of the area revealed marks in the snow indicating that the man was near a ridge crest when the avalanche started. The avalanche travelled down the full extent of a gully and it was here that the mustererâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s body was found, encased in a deep deposit of snow. The searchers could ascertain few precise details concerning the weather, the angle of the slope or even the exact relationship of the footsteps and the avalanche. However, they regarded the event as a wet snow avalanche by the nature of the cement-like debris.

Source: New Zealand Alpine Journal, Number 16, 1954, page 233

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Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

12 Dobson Valley, South Canterbury (4 August 1955) (Map 3) Hunting; 1 caught, 1 fatality

The Dobson Valley is a popular venue for deer hunting. The valleys and alpine bowls are superb terrain for the roaming deer and the skilful deerstalker alike. The arrival of winter snow forces the deer to lower elevations in search of food, boosting the hunter’s opportunity for a successful hunt. It was during early August in 1955 that a party of three was enjoying such winter hunting conditions. On the 4th of August the party were working the western slopes of the main valley. One member of the

party was experienced in the alpine country so he elected to position himself uppermost on the mountainside with the other two positioned below him at different elevations. During the afternoon the experienced alpine man was involved in an avalanche. Although his companions did not witness the incident, his footsteps were followed, leading into the shady side of a gully at about 1800m. It was apparent that this was the point where he had become caught in the moving mass of snow and carried down in it to his death.

Source: New Zealand Alpine Journal, 16, 1955, page 543

13 Pioneer Pass, Haast Glacier, Mt Cook National Park (2 January 1961) (Map 4) Alpine climbing; 2 caught, 2 killed

The day was clear, and without freeze. At about 2.00 am, two climbers left Pioneer Hut with the intention of crossing Pioneer Pass to Haast Hut and on to the Hermitage. When the climbers failed to arrive at the Hermitage two days later, a search was undertaken. On the Haast side of Pioneer Pass, the men’s tracks were found leading side by side down a steep couloir. The tracks led to what was considered by rescuers to be a “relatively

small patch of snow” that had run on an ice layer deeper within the pack. Rescuers found the climbers’ packs and part of an ice axe lower down the couloir where the avalanche had come to rest. The “large mass of debris” was spread over approximately 450m. The bodies were not recovered.

Source: FMC Bulletin Number 15, 1963, page 4

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Chapter 4: Accounts of Avalanche Accidents

14 Mt Olympus (23 September 1961) (Map 6) Ski club work party; 4 caught, 1 killed

It was a fine start to the day for members of the Windwhistle Winter Sports Club, which is located on Mt Olympus near Lake Coleridge. Work had begun on clearing a ski tow for operation. Late in the day, four members of the clearing party were working near the top of the ski tow when a wall of soft snow struck them. The avalanche carried three men about 50m down the slope while the fourth man was carried another 15m and was buried by the snow. Long

bamboo poles, which had been used to mark a slalom course, were employed as probes to search for the missing man. It was about 20 minutes before the body was uncovered. He was not breathing and mouth to mouth resuscitation was unsuccessful. He appeared to have died from head injuries and suffocation. By 5.15 pm a blizzard had set in. The body was moved to the top hut about 6.00 pm and later removed to the Christchurch Hospital mortuary.

Source: The Press, 25 September 1961

15 Mt Annette, Mt Cook National Park (21 October 1962) (Map 3) Alpine climbing; 1 caught, 1 killed

A group of four young climbers set out early in the day to climb Mt Annette. The group soon split into two independent parties (two of the more experienced climbers forming one group, while the two inexperienced climbers formed the other). The inexperienced companions moved at a slower rate and fell behind the other group. At about 12.30 pm, the inexperienced climbers separated from each other when one of the pair developed a sore leg. The uninjured climber went on ahead, arranging to meet the injured friend at a specific site. However, the uninjured climber carried on past the arranged meeting point, and chose a route below the one established by the

more experienced party ahead. While pushing a new track some 60m below where the others had gone, the climber either initiated or was caught by a small avalanche that swept him approximately 450m through steep broken terrain. The first party eventually saw their companionâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s tracks leading to the avalanche slide path, and alerted the Chief Ranger on their return to the Park Headquarters. The climber with the injured leg waited at the pre-arranged point until about 6.00 pm before also returning to the Hermitage. The avalanche victim was located the next morning after an ice axe and a bandage was found higher in the debris. The victim was lying partially buried in a creek bed.

Source: FMC Bulletin Number 17, 1963, page 8 Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 55


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

16 Mt Outram, Upper Rangitata (29 December 1964) (Map 5) Alpine climbing; 2 caught, 2 killed

A group of four climbers departed from Disappointment Saddle on their way to climb Mt Outram at about 11.00 am. The climbers, roped in pairs, selected a route up a 45° slope. The snowpack was comprised of about 30cm of soft snow over a hard base. The group ascended about 150m when one pair stopped, while the others carried on past. After climbing about another 30m, the pair in front dislodged a small amount of snow that developed into an avalanche about 30-60cm deep and 3m wide.

A warning was shouted to the climbers below, who quickly drove the shafts of their ice axes into the snow. Although the pair was standing about 2m apart, both of the climbers were swept off their feet by the avalanche. They were carried down the slope about 10m and over a cliff. Both climbers received multiple injuries from the fall and were dead when their companions reached them.

Source: FMC Bulletin Number 23, 1965, page 3

17 Mt Rolleston, Arthurs Pass National Park (23 June 1966) (Map 7) Rescue party; 8 caught, 8 buried, 1 fatality

On Monday evening, the 20th of June, word was spread among the Christchurch climbing community that there was a party overdue from a trip in the Arthurs Pass area. Four climbers had last been seen high on the Otira Face of Mt. Rolleston. Mountain rescue equipment and a team to operate it were dispatched from Christchurch to assist the rangers at the Pass with organising a search. The weather earlier in the day had been good but deteriorated as the search was mounted. The intention of the rescue team was to establish a high camp on the Otira Slide, a steep snow face adjacent to the Otira Face. The Slide provided the easiest access to the upper mountain. From that point the rescue cable, winch gear, and some other

rescue equipment would be relocated to the Low Peak of Mt. Rolleston. When the weather cleared sufficiently, the rescuers intended to descend the face. The rescue team successfully established a high camp on the Otira Slide, but atrocious weather prevented them from locating the climbers on the Otira Face. After two days the chances of the missing climbers surviving the conditions continued to diminish. The search controller sent out a call for more rescue personnel. On Wednesday the 22nd a team of eight rescuers arrived from Wellington and Invercargill to reinforce the team of eight already established in a camp high up on the Otira Slide. As the new team plugged

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Chapter 4: Accounts of Avalanche Accidents

their way through thigh deep snow to the Otira Slide camp they thought they could hear voices calling from the face. Because of poor visibility and deteriorating weather attempts to verify this had to be abandoned. Bitterly cold temperatures and extreme winds hampered the efforts of the party trying to establish the Low Peak camp. Two men from this group climbed 305m down the Otira face, tackling soft snow, ice covered rocks and treacherous winds. The two reached a point above a sheer overhanging rock band (probably less than 100m above where the climbers were). They could not descend and search further without the aid of the cable gear so ascended back to the Low Peak camp, arriving at dark. It was now even colder than before with the northwest wind finally giving way to a southerly. It was the southerly that would bring disaster to the rescue team. The slopes above and below the Slide camp had seen many people on them before nightfall and any thought about the slopes being dangerous had been dispelled. As the eight men settled down for the night the incoming southerly was sweeping powder snow off the Crow Glacier, which was a large snow field above and to the south of the camp. The wind deposited snow in an area of lull directly above the camp. By 9.00 pm that evening the snow had built up to such an extent that it proved too great for cohesion to occur with the partially consolidated underlying snow. Without warning, the slope avalanched down onto the camp and the eight sleeping men. The two uphill tents â&#x20AC;&#x201C; each containing three men

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; were flattened under approximately 3m of snow. Fortunately, the lowest tent was partly protected by a small wall of snow and by some ration boxes stacked around it, and was not completely buried. If it had been, it is almost certain that there would have been no survivors. The occupants of the lowest tent acted with amazing speed and presence of mind. After digging themselves out they immediately set to work digging to uncover the others. The three men in the middle tent were still conscious when they were pulled out but were in no state to help with further digging. With only mittens on their hands the two men pawed their way down to the last remaining tent. Two of the three men in the tent had been partially protected by a pack positioned near their heads. This had provided them with a small air space from which they could breath. They had been unconscious for some time but as fresh air reached them they regained consciousness. The third man in the tent was not so lucky. He had been asleep, facing the wall of the tent. Having no air space he would have suffocated. Despite prolonged efforts to revive him, he did not recover. Numbed with shock, the remaining searchers continued to look for the missing climbers. The weather cleared but the damage had been done. A helicopter was called in and made two passes close to the face, doing in a matter of minutes what ground searchers had taken days to do. The only sign of the missing climbers was a rope dangling in space below a rock step. Presumably this was the point where the climbers had perished. On Friday afternoon, the most tragic search in New

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Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

Zealand’s climbing history ended with four climbers missing, presumed dead, as well as one avalanche fatality. Source:  NZ Alpine Journal, Number 21, 1966, pages 334-336

18 Avalanche Peak, Arthurs Pass (2 August 1969) (Map 7) Alpine climbing; 4 caught, 1 killed

On a windy morning with some cloud in the sky and fresh snow on the ground, four climbers set off from the New Zealand Alpine Club’s hut at Arthurs Pass to climb Avalanche Peak. The climbers were roped together in pairs and were at about 1800m elevation on the southeast ridge when an avalanche started in front of them. All four of the climbers were swept down about a 100m. Three of the climbers were buried under about 30cm of snow with the fourth climber buried deeper. One member of the climbing party managed to free himself and promptly set to work helping the others. Two more men were freed and the trio then located the fourth

member by following the rope to which he was attached. It was about fifteen minutes after the avalanche had occurred that the searchers cleared the head of the buried man, scooping the snow with their bare hands. Although he was alive (but unconscious), as the men continued digging to free the rest of his body from the debris, he stopped breathing. Despite the best efforts of the surviving climbers to revive the victim, he never regained consciousness. It was thought the deceased died as a result of suffocation.

Source: The Press, 4 August 1969

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Chapter 4: Accounts of Avalanche Accidents

19 Rainbow Valley, Mt Aspiring National Park (23 December 1969) (Map 2) Alpine climbing; 4 caught, 4 killed

On the night of the 22nd of December, five members of the Auckland University Tramping Club arrived at the Rock of Ages Bivouac in the Kitchener Valley (a tributary of the East Matukituki River). The prevailing weather had seen northwest conditions, reaching storm severity for extended periods. However, on the 23rd of December, the local weather was fine. The group may have thought a southwest wind change had taken place. This day the party decided to move up the confined Rainbow Valley. While working their way up the valley, three avalanches of increasing magnitude

occurred, produced from the glacier below Mt Fastness. The last of these avalanches had a powder component that partially covered the top part of a spur between the stream forks at the head of the valley, which was the proposed route selected by the party. At approximately 10.00 am an “ice avalanche of extreme size” engulfed four members of the party, sweeping them off the spur. The surviving member of the party managed to shelter safely under a rock located 5-10m away.

Source: FMC Bulletin Number 42, 1972, page 2

20 Governor Col, Mt Cook National Park (28 January, 1971) (Map 4)  Alpine climbing; 2 caught, 1 killed

A party of four New Zealanders in the company of two Australians was proceeding from Pioneer Hut to Plateau Hut at Mt Cook National Park. The New Zealanders had apparently attempted Mt Tasman at 1.00 am but changed their plans and headed back towards Governor Col. At around 5.30 am, a large section of ice (approximately 8m wide and 9m deep) gave way leaving one of the Australians dangling on the rope still belayed by his partner. The avalanche advanced on the New Zealanders climbing below. The belayed Australian climber was lowered to the broken ice shelf below.

Only two members of the New Zealand party could be seen, with no trace of the others. The Australian climber and the remaining two New Zealanders began to search for the missing climbers without success. The other Australian climber, unable to descend to the avalanche site, returned to Pioneer Hut to raise the alarm. At about 9.00 am, a Department of Lands and Survey staff member searching from a ski plane was able to identify one of the missing pair in the avalanche debris. A helicopter returned with other SAR team members and was able to land near the site. The searchers found the climber alive although seriously injured. The climber

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Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

was still tied to a rope that disappeared down a crevasse filled with a large amount of avalanche debris. Little hope was held for the second climber at the other end of the rope. Since the rescue site was located directly below a number of ice cliffs, it was decided

that any attempt to dig for the other victim would further endanger rescuers. It was also decided that the magnitude of the avalanche coupled with a fall into the crevasse would have made survival unlikely.

Source: FMC Bulletin Number 42, 1972, page 4

21 Haast Ridge, Mt Cook National Park (13 December 1971) (Map 4) Alpine climbing instruction course; 1 caught, 1 killed

Led by an instructor, the participants on a climbing instruction course were descending Haast Ridge. Travelling in single file, the party was moving across the top of a snow gully a short distance below the Haast Hut heading towards the main ridge when a small avalanche occurred. Although the instructor called a warning,

the climber second in line was knocked off his balance and started to slide down the slope. He attempted to self-arrest but was unable to stop; sliding 250m down the gully. When the party descended to the fallen climber, he showed no signs of life.

Source: FMC Bulletin Number 44, March 1973, page 3

22 Tasman Valley, Mt Cook National Park (16 September 1973) (Map 5) Alpine climbing; 2 killed

While flying over the Tasman Saddle Hut area on the evening of the 16th of September, a pilot observed tracks leading under a cornice formation and into avalanche debris. She also noted that two climbers were overdue at the Tasman Hut. A search was conducted in the area of the

avalanche debris. One body was located but the other climber could not be found. The avalanche debris covered an area of approximately 200m2 to a depth of up to 10m and appeared to be deposited by a slab avalanche that had released from beneath an ice cornice.

Source: FMC Bulletin Number 49, September 1975, page 11 Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 60


Chapter 4: Accounts of Avalanche Accidents

23 Haast Ridge, Mt Cook National Park (21 November 1973) (Map 4) Alpine climbing; 2 caught, 1 killed

Two climbers were caught in an avalanche on the Haast Ridge near Haast Hut. One of the climbers was killed while the other (a trainee guide) was injured.

Weather at the time had a centre of low pressure moving away to the east while a high-pressure system developed in the Tasman Sea. Winds were southwest.

Source: FMC Bulletin Number 47, July 1974, page 9

24 La Perouse, Mt Cook National Park (1 June 1975) (Map 4) Alpine climbing; 3 caught, 3 killed

Three climbers left the Empress Hut in order to climb the south ridge of La Perouse, and when they did not return a search was mounted. The bodies of the three were found roped together on the Upper Strauchon Glacier at the bottom

of an avalanche path (it appeared the three were swept from the south ridge by an ice avalanche). Other climbers in the area reported hearing avalanches coming off La Perouse that day.

Source: FMC Bulletin Number 54, August 1977, page 6 New Zealand Alpine Journal, Number 28, 1975, page 8

25 Ball Pass, Mount Cook National Park (23 July 1975) (Map 4) Alpine climbing course; 27 caught, 4 killed

Between the 13th & 17th of July, 200mm of rain fell in Mt Cook Village with snow likely above 2000m. Over the next six days, air temperatures were exceptionally cold, and more snow fell with prevailing winds from the north through northwest (Figure 4.5). On the 23rd of July, 27 New Zealand Air Force (NZAF) personnel and instructors were flown by helicopter into the Ball Pass area as part of a survival exercise. The area had been selected since it provided

a suitable location for teaching snowcaving, snow trenching, and building igloos (Figure 4.6).The group intended to spend the night in the shelters they constructed. Although the course had been organised and run by the Air Force, the assistance of alpine guides as instructors had been sought. After a brief inspection from the air at about 2.45 pm, the participants were flown to the site in five groups (each with an instructor) and began preparing

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Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

Figure 4.5:  Weather Map: 23 July 1975

snow caves on an ENE facing slope at an elevation of about 2100m. As each new group arrived on site, the instructors would meet to discuss site selection. The groups were about 15-20m apart, spread across the slope at about the same elevation. The slope angle was between 20° and 40°, the snow wind packed in some places and deep drifted powder in others. The slope flattened at the base and rocks were visible through the snow towards the top of the path. Reports suggested the excavation efforts revealed no layering, and no settlement or whumphing sounds were experienced. Other climbers had left tracks where they had traversed across the slope earlier on.

The afternoon temperatures were mild and the course participants worked in shirtsleeves until the late afternoon. At about 4.00 pm (and just as the sun was leaving the slope), a large slab avalanche released above the groups and travelled for an estimated 200-300m before settling. Some of those who had warning of the avalanche began running down the slope in an effort to escape. When the snow stopped moving, one of the instructors managed to extract himself from the avalanche debris and began to organise a head count and initiate the rescue of those trapped. Four persons never regained consciousness despite the “urgent and prolonged”

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Chapter 4: Accounts of Avalanche Accidents

Figure 4.6:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Ball Pass Avalanche site 23 July 1975 (Photo: Mt Cook National Park Collection).

attention by Air Force medics and a doctor on site.

bedsurface appeared to be composed of hard granular snow.

Site inspection revealed a crown wall that varied between 1-4m thick and the Source: FMC Bulletin Number 54, August 1977, page 6 The Press, 12 November 1975 New Zealand Alpine Journal, Number 28, 1975, page 135

26 Mt Hutt Ski Area (25 August 1975) (Map 6) Ski area access road; 2 caught, 1 killed

Between the 22nd and 24th of August during a strong southerly storm cycle, 2m of snow fell above 1200m. This kept the Mt Hutt Ski Area closed for several days. The weather cleared on the morning of the 25th and ski area staff attempted to move up to the ski area in an effort to reopen facilities. Snow accumulations of

between 3-4m were reported in the main basin and around base facilities. A group of approximately 16 employees worked to prepare a helicopter landing pad in Scottâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Gully from where staff could be ferried to the ski area while a bulldozer worked to clear the road. Six staff flew to the area while the others travelled up the

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Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

partially cleared road in three vehicles (the road was considered safe for travel). Eventually the trucks became bogged in snowdrifts 2-3m deep and the occupants of the vehicles continued up the road on foot. At about 10.45 am four of the employees were walking together on the road near Waterfall Corner when a large avalanche from the slopes above swept down a gully and over the road. Although one of the employees (who was clearing snow from his gumboot at the time) saw the avalanche coming and called a warning, there was no time to move out of the way and two members of the group were completely buried. Other employees moving up the road raised the alarm via radio and the helicopter working on the field flew to

the site with rescue equipment and staff. Ten other rescuers were mobilised from Methven along with a doctor and were flown onto the site. After searching for less than 10 minutes, rescuers located the first of the two buried victims under about a metre of snow. He was found conscious and unhurt about 20m from where he had last been seen. Fortunately the gully had directed the avalanche along the road rather than across and down the steep terrain below. About 45 minutes after the avalanche occurred, the body of the second man was located by probe under approximately 2.5m of snow. The slab avalanche involved about a hectare of “packed” snow 50-70cm thick. The bedsurface of the avalanche was reported as “old icy” snow.

Source: FMC Bulletin Number 54, August 1977, page 6 The Press, 26 August, 1975

27 Temple Basin Ski Area, Arthurs Pass (28 August 1975) (Map 7) Ski area access; 3 caught, 1 killed

On the 28th of August, heavy snow fell throughout the day resulting in an accumulation of approximately 75cm by evening. It had been reported that there was poor bonding between the new snow and the old snow. At about 5.00 pm a party of three was returning along the line of the normal walking track between the main ski basin and the upper (Downhill) basin where they had been visiting friends staying in Page Hut. All three were

frequent visitors to Temple Basin, and two of the group were also employees at the area. When they were about 150m from the hut, an avalanche struck the party. Two members of the party were carried 40-50m before being swept over a bluff. The third member was completely buried, but managed to dig himself free and return to Page Hut to raise the alarm. Then he and two others returned to the avalanche site equipped with probes

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and shovels. Two of the rescuers, roped together, began descending the bluff to search below while one rescuer remained above the bluffs. Another rescue party was assembled and dispatched from the Christchurch Ski Club (CSC) and Park Headquarters in Arthurs Pass was alerted. Under the leadership of the senior ranger a rescue party was assembled and dispatched in Otira, arriving at the ski area just after 8.00 pm. The CSC rescue party took a low route to the avalanche site and met with the roped searchers below the bluff. A probe line search was initiated. A second party

dispatched from CSC used the higher route originally taken by those caught in the avalanche, and while descending the debris, found a hand sticking out of the snow. The person was found to be hypothermic and in a sitting position in about 1m of snow. He had been buried for about 11/2 hours. The remaining victim of the avalanche was located by probing at about 8.00 pm. She was buried under about 3m of snow some 25-30m below the other burial site, and about 35-40m above the toe of the avalanche. Despite the efforts of rescuers, resuscitation measures failed to revive her.

Source: FMC Bulletin, Number 54, August 1977, pages 6-7 The New Zealand Ski Year Book 1976, pages 37-38

28 Linda Glacier, Mt Cook (2 January 1979) (Map 4) Alpine climbing; 2 caught, 2 killed

From the 27th of December, the weather at Mt Cook had been unsettled and climbing conditions were considered poor. A group of climbers staying at the Plateau Hut attempted to climb Mt Cook via the Linda Glacier on the 28th of December but retreated due to the changeable weather conditions. However, the weather cleared on the afternoon of New Yearâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Day. The forecast for the 2nd of January was for moderate to fresh westerly winds with fine weather east of the divide and showers likely in the west. The freezing level was expected to be around 3000m. The outlook was similar.

On the 2nd of January, about 1.30 am on a beautiful and clear night, four climbers left the Plateau Hut intending to climb Mount Cook via the Linda Glacier. In the vicinity of Teichelman Corner the party caught up with another group of four that had left the hut half an hour earlier. At this time, wind had developed and some patches of clouds were about. Two members of the group felt the weather was deteriorating and made the decision to turn back to the hut. The remaining six climbers decided to carry on. The latter group then roped up into pairs. When the climbers reached the area of the

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Linda Glacier known as the “Gun Barrel”, one of the pairs chose a route to the left that would lead them through steep ice cliffs to the Linda Shelf. The other four continued on to the right, attempting to stay out of the way of any avalanches that might come off the “Gun Barrel”. By the time the four climbers made the Linda Shelf below the Summit Rocks, it was about 6.00 am. Weather conditions had definitely deteriorated, requiring the climbers to put on storm gear. One of the climbers later observed “there were avalanches going off all the time” though none were heard close by. A decision was made to return to the Plateau Hut and the climbers descended by the same route they had ascended. As they moved down past the ice cliffs, the four climbers could see evidence of a large avalanche off the Linda Shelf. This raised concerns for the two climbers who had separated from them earlier. After descending another few hundred metres, the four climbers caught sight of their friends in the avalanche debris. They found them still roped together, one partially buried with no signs of life while the other lay on the surface badly injured (with apparent multiple limb fractures and facial injuries). The injured climber had managed to climb into his pack for shelter. He was conscious when found and described hearing a bang before looking up to see an avalanche about 6m high coming toward them. The two had started to run from the avalanche but were not able to move fast enough. It was decided that two of the able climbers would return to Plateau Hut and raise the alarm while the other two

remained behind to assist the injured survivor. It was very cold and the weather conditions were bad with high wind and poor visibility. The pair that remained with the injured climber built an ice wall for protection from the wind but by about 4.00 pm decided to make a trench for shelter, using a sleeping bag cover as a fly. By 9.00 pm it was evident this would not provide adequate protection either and they assisted the injured climber into a crevasse for shelter. A storm raged through the night and the climbers continually had to dig themselves out of drifting snow. By the next morning the condition of the injured climber began to deteriorate and he died just after midday. Unable to remove the body from the crevasse, the climbers marked the location of the deceased with a rope and snow stake and then departed. As the pair made their way back to the Plateau Hut they came across a helmet and axe on the edge of a crevasse. Upon inspection they could see a body about 6m down the crevasse.While one member belayed, the other was lowered down the crevasse to see if they could help the fallen climber in some way. It was only when they reached the person they realised he was one of the two friends that left the avalanche site in order to get help. The two climbers had run into problems as they made their way to Plateau Hut to raise the alarm for the avalanche accident. The second lost his footing on the steep icy terrain and had fallen into the crevasse pulling the leader behind him. The leader was badly injured in the fall. After making him as comfortable as possible, the second left the helmet and ice axe as a marker and returned to Plateau Hut to get help.

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The injured leader spent the night alone in the crevasse. After one aborted rescue attempt due to atrocious weather, rescue staff finally arrived by helicopter at the crevasse site and the three climbers there were

evacuated to Mt Cook village. Searches for the bodies of the two deceased were hampered by bad weather and more snow, obliterating all evidence of the site. They still had not been recovered four months later.

Source: FMC Bulletin, Number 64, November 1980, pages 20, 21 COR79/530

29 Mt Rob Roy, Mt Aspiring National Park (6 January 1980) (Map 2) Alpine climbing; 2 caught, 2 killed

A group of three climbers were spending the Christmas and New Year period climbing in Mount Aspiring National Park. They based themselves from Cascade Hut and completed day or extended trips from there. On the 4th of January two of the climbers set out to climb the west face of Mt Rob Roy, while the third member of the group went walking in the East Matukituki Valley. It was decided that they would all meet back at Cameron Flat on the evening of the 5th. The walker returned on the evening of the 5th but could find no sign of his friends. The next morning he travelled up the valley asking people if they had seen the two climbers. When he arrived at Cascade Hut he found the overdue climbersâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; spare equipment there, untouched. He continued on to Mt Aspiring Hut and after talking with two local mountain guides, decided to use the hut radio to raise the alarm. The guides at the hut initiated a search. It was decided that one guide, accompanied by another climber, would ascend to the rock bivouac

on the west side of Mt. Rob Roy. If there were no sign of the missing climbers at that point, they would continue up and search the west face of the mountain. The small search team gained access to the area via Shovel Flat. On arriving at the bivouac site, they found sleeping bags and clothing belonging to the missing men. The two searchers continued up to the west face via the Maude Francis Glacier. Along the way they searched two separate areas of avalanche debris and a large crevasse. There was no trace of the missing climbers. As they approached the upper slopes, they could see that a large avalanche had come down the steep slopes beneath the summit. The searchers scanned the area for any sign of the missing pair. It was nearly 8.30 pm when they neared the top of the debris. The guide could see a climbing rope on top of the debris. He soon found a hand and foot of one of the climbers. The remainder of the body was cemented in frozen snow. He checked for any sign of life

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Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

Figure 4.7:  Mt Rob Roy Avalanche Site 6 January 1980 (Photo: Geoff Wayatt).

but found none. The guide continued to trace the rope toward the other end until it disappeared under the snow and ice. There was no sign of the second climber and it would have been impossible for the guide to dig further into the frozen snow with only an ice axe. The two searchers began their descent down the mountain to arrange for the bodies to be recovered by helicopter. The avalanche occurred on the west face of Mt Rob Roy, mid-to-late afternoon on the 5th of January. Temperatures had been very warm in the valley. It was a

climax slab avalanche, which released to ground on an incline of 40-50° (Figure 4.7). The avalanche was a size 3, about 75m wide, with a crown wall of 1.5-2m. The avalanche ran for 100 vertical metres. The likely cause of the avalanche was the intense heating of the snowpack causing loss of strength and melt-water coupled with the smooth rock slabs beneath the snow creating a slide surface.

Source: COR80/680 Otago Daily Times, 8 January 1980 Geoff Wayatt – Mountain Recreation Ltd, Wanaka

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30 East Face, Mt Cook (5 April 1980) (Map 4) Alpine climbing; 3 caught, 2 killed

Three climbers flew into the Grand Plateau on the afternoon of Friday, the 4th of April. At around 10.30 pm they departed the Plateau Hut to complete a grand traverse of Mt Cook via the Zurbriggen ridge. It was a clear moonlit night with some high cloud visible. Around midnight, a second party of two climbers left the hut, catching up with the first party of three at the foot of the ice cliffs on the East Face at around 4.00 am. After some discussion on the route, the two parties climbed parallel to each other, never more than a few metres apart as they ascended the face. Climbing conditions were easy. At about 7.00 am both parties arrived at the base of the last small gully near the top of the ice cliffs. The two leaders took about 15 minutes to place anchors in the ice and were in the process of belaying up the seconds when a cracking sound was heard above the climbers. One of

the climbers in the party of two called a warning as an ice avalanche came down the gully. The party of three climbers was swept about 450m down the face. Two of the three climbers hit by the avalanche were eventually sighted lying in the snow and a rescue team was flown to the site. These two did not survive the avalanche. A helicopter spotted the third member of the group moving in a crevasse. He was rescued and recovered in hospital later. When the avalanche occurred, the two climbers in the other party managed to retain their position at the belay. After the event, they decided it would be quicker to ascend the gully onto the Linda Shelf and then descend the Linda Glacier to the Plateau Hut to raise the alarm. The two climbers arrived back at the hut at about 3.00 pm by which time the rescue was well under way.

Source: FMC Bulletin, Number 66, June 1981, pages 14, 15 COR80/1180

31 Mt Alma, Two Thumb Range (4 July 1981) (Map 5) Alpine climbing; 2 caught, 2 killed

On the 3rd of July, a woman and three men set out to climb Mt Alma (2300m) from the Mesopotamia Station at Rangitata River. From a high camp they set out early on the 4th to climb the peak. It was about 3.30 pm as they approached

the summit. The final part of the climb was up a long snow ramp. It was a moderately angled slope but they chose to move unroped as they could kick good footsteps in the soft snow. One man and the woman moved ahead. There was about 10m between them and the other

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Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

two men. The first indication of trouble was a call and the first pair turned to see the lower two being swept down the slope engulfed in an avalanche. It was the very part of the slope the first pair had just crossed. They began searching for their friends. With no avalanche transceivers it was about 45 minutes before they found the first person. About 500m down the slope they found a boot sticking out of the snow. The pair dug furiously with their hands and ice axes. In time they exposed the man’s face and body but there was no sign of life. They left him and began to search for the other victim. Searching until after dark, they found no

trace of the other man. Marking the site, they left for their camp and then headed out to Erewhon Station. Arriving at about midnight, they were able to notify Ashburton Police of the accident. A search party flew to the site by helicopter the next morning. Searchers recovered the body of the first victim and then continued a sweep search down the slope. They identified a boot sticking out of the snow. Digging down about 1–1.5m they recovered the body of the second climber. Medical examinations identified that both climbers had died from asphyxia due to suffocation.

Source: FMC Bulletin Number 73, March 1983, page 6 COR 81/1663 COR 81/1662

32 Third Waterfall, Mt Ruapehu, Tongariro National Park (11 July 1981) (Map 8) Alpine climbing training course; 3 caught, 1 killed

On the 11th of July the weather was unpleasant with strong southerly winds (Figure 4.8). There were limited facilities operating at Whakapapa Ski Area. Despite these conditions, the Tararua Tramping Club was holding an alpine-climbing course attended by 24 participants.The course was the second of three weekend instruction sessions covering alpine technical skills. An experienced instructor was allocated four students and over the course of the day this instructor and his students

covered a variety of technical skills. The students were roped in pairs while the instructor remained unroped. At about 3.00 pm the party traversed to the top of a slope called the Third Waterfall (Figure 4.9). The instructor moved onto the slope and had descended some distance when he was followed by two of the students (the other two students had traversed to the other side of the basin). The instructor was about 30m below and to the left of the two students, who were

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about 10m apart. Suddenly the snow around the students began to move and one of them shouted â&#x20AC;&#x153;Avalancheâ&#x20AC;?. The instructor began to run in an attempt to get out of the way but was caught by the moving snow. The student at the top of the slope was standing above the crown wall and attempted an ice axe belay. Unfortunately, he was dragged into the moving debris by the rope attaching him to his companion below. When the avalanche stopped moving at the bottom of the slope, the two students were on the surface but their instructor was not visible. Within a few minutes of the avalanche a climbing party close by was alerted and came to the assistance of the students. A skier also appeared on the scene and went

to get help. Soon after, a Park Ranger and a ski patroller traversed to the top of the slope, saw the avalanche debris and climbers, and descended to the debris site where they were informed of the burial. A search was immediately organised and after about10 minutes one of the students using an ice axe as a probe struck something. The instructor was found buried under about 1.5m of snow, roughly 15 minutes after the avalanche had trapped him. Rescuers administered CPR once he was extracted from the snow but he never regained consciousness. A doctor at the scene halted resuscitation efforts and the body of the deceased was moved down the mountain. The subsequent post mortem examination indicated the

Figure 4.8:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Weather Map: 10 July 1981 Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 71


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

Figure 4.9:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Third Waterfall Avalanche site (not actual event) (Photo: Dave Irwin).

instructor had died as a result of severe internal chest trauma. The Third Waterfall is a relatively short, steep, northeast-facing slope with an

abrupt change in slope angle at the base forming a terrain trap. The slide was described as a slab avalanche.

Source: FMC Bulletin, Number 73, March 1983, pages 6, 7 COR81/1476 The Press, 13 July 1981

33 Knoll Ridge, Mt Ruapehu, Tongariro National Park (5 September 1981) (Map 8) Alpine climbing training course; 7 caught, 2 killed

At 6.15 pm on the 5th of September the Safety Services Ranger for Tongariro National Park and Whakapapa Ski Area received an emergency phone call. Seven people were reported caught in an avalanche and at least two people were known to remain buried. The accident

had occurred around 5.45 pm at Knoll Ridge, the highest point of the ski area. The weather on the mountain that day had been persistently strong cold southwesterlies and it had been snowing consistently to low elevations for most of the day (Figure 4.10).

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Figure 4.10:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Weather Map: 5 September 1981

The group involved was on a mountain craft course run by the Taihape Alpine and Tramping Club. They had arrived on the mountain earlier in the day but due to the cold winds and snow showers they had elected to stay at the clubâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hut at the Top of the Bruce. The plan for the day was to walk up to Knoll Ridge to learn how to construct snow caves, with the aim of staying in them overnight. In the early afternoon, after the weather appeared to be clearing, the group decided to carry on with their original plan. Equipped with overnight gear plus ice axes, crampons and a few shovels, they began the climb. They had also been loaned two avalanche transceivers to try

out. By the time they arrived at Knoll Ridge, it was already starting to get late in the day and the group began to excavate their shelters. The entire group was involved in digging, when the slope avalanched. Everyone was caught in the avalanche. Five members of the group either managed to free themselves or were assisted by others to get free. Among those rescued, were the two people who had been given the avalanche transceivers to wear. None of the five were injured but there were still two people missing. In a state of panic, the group probed the snow with ice axes in a vain attempt to find the missing woman and man. At this point one person headed

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Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

down the mountain to raise the alarm. A short distance down the mountain the person found the lift operator’s hut and used the phone inside. Rescue personnel assembled at the Iwikau Shelter and were transported to the avalanche site by snow groomer, as conditions were too stormy to use the chairlifts. En-route, they picked up rescue equipment and the witness who had raised the alarm. Arriving at the accident site at 7.30 pm, they began searching with probes immediately. By 8.00 pm, two

bodies had been recovered 8m apart and 0.5–2m deep. Ski patrollers had not seen avalanches on that path before. It was a short steep slope, facing east and was lee to winds from the south to southwest. The slab released on an old snow surface layer, where the bonding of the subsequent new snow was poor. The slab was 50m wide and 1–3m deep and only ran 20m down slope. It was assumed that the extensive excavating into the slope to construct the shelters contributed to the slope avalanching.

Source: FMC Bulletin, Number 73, March 1983, pages 7, 8 COR81/1508 COR81/1509 The Press, 7 September 1981, page 1

34 Milford Track, Fiordland National Park (28 November 1982) (Map 1) Department of Lands and Survey worker; 1 killed

At about 3.30 pm on Saturday the 27th of November, a hut warden based at Lake Mintaro Hut was on the way to investigate and assist a reported hypothermic tramper at Pass Hut. He met and was joined by a trainee ranger at McKinnon Pass. Arriving at Pass Hut, there was no sign of the tramper so the hut warden and trainee ranger ran down the other side of the pass headed for the Quintin Huts in the Arthur Valley in the hope of finding the person. At the time, the wind (estimated at 70 knots and with driving hail) was so strong that it was occasionally blowing the men

over (Figure 4.11). The trainee ranger was moving faster than the hut warden and the men became separated. The trainee ranger arrived at the Quintin Huts just after 6.00 pm and found the hypothermic victim had arrived at the hut safely. However, the ranger became concerned when the hut warden who had been running down the track behind him failed to arrive. It was estimated that the hut warden should have been only about ten minutes behind the ranger. A search was conducted back along the track but there was no sign of the missing hut warden. The alarm was raised and

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Chapter 4: Accounts of Avalanche Accidents

Figure 4.11:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Weather Map: 28 November 1982

SAR was mobilised. The following day SAR staff were flown into the area at 8.00 am and found a large amount of avalanche debris. An avalanche at the head of the Arthur Valley had swept across approximately 400m of the track near Crows Nest Hut. The debris consisted of large rocks, snow and ice, and covered an estimated one hectare. While two SAR members remained to search the avalanche debris, the other SAR staff stayed in the helicopter and made an aerial search of the surrounding tracks and bush area. Eventually they returned to assist the searchers on the ground.

The first sign of the missing man was found at 9.50 am when a shredded pair of green over-trousers was located in the streambed. A short time later another searcher located part of a human internal organ 50m up the creek from where the over-trousers had been found. Further clothing and shoes were found as the search progressed. At around 12.30 pm, the deceased was located buried under about 1m of debris about 2m in from the creek bed. The body had been badly mutilated. The body of the deceased and SAR staff were ferried back to Te Anau by helicopter.

Source: FMC Bulletin, Number 81, March 1985, page 17 COR83/751 The Press, 29 November 1982 Otago Daily Times, 24 November 1982 Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 75


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

35 Linda Face, Mt Graham, Mt Cook National Park (20 August 1983) (Map 4) Alpine climbing; 2 caught, 2 killed

On the 17th of August 1983, two young climbers flew to Plateau Hut. They were last seen on the afternoon of the 19th by National Park staff who flew out from Plateau hut at that time. There was no reply from Plateau Hut on the radio schedule on the evenings of the 20th, 21st and 22nd. The weather during this time had been poor, including snow showers (Figure 4.12). On the 23rd a helicopter check of the hut was made. There was no one in the hut and the last entry in the intentions book showed “20/8/84 … party up Graham and Balfour depending on weather,

1.00 am”. The helicopter, with park staff on board continued searching via the intended route of the missing climbers. The search party carried out a very close and extensive search of the Linda and Balfour Glaciers area, which included checking crevasses. On the Linda Glacier side, there were signs of widespread avalanching, both large and small. Near the summit of Mt Graham overlooking the Linda Glacier, a short length of climbing rope was seen hanging down the face. On closer inspection, the rope was tangled in a sling, fixed to a snow stake. Further down the slope, an

Figure 4.12:  Weather Map: 20 August 1983 Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 76


Chapter 4: Accounts of Avalanche Accidents

ice screw and sling were seen. There were old footprints around this lower site but these disappeared after a short distance. Avalanches had released from around this location and below this point there were numerous crevasses. The searchers concluded that a likely situation was that the climbers had abseiled from the summit but on attempting to retrieve their rope it became jammed. The climbers then rigged another anchor point (the ice screw), retrieved as much rope as possible by cutting a length off, and then

prepared to abseil again. Although the exact fate of the two climbers is unknown, it was assumed that they might have been avalanched down the face or fallen and then subsequently caught and/or buried by avalanche debris. Further aerial searches carried out over the following two days failed to find any further trace of the missing climbers. Note: The authors have interpreted the description of the circumstances of the death as likely evidence of avalanche.

Source: COR 84/570

36 Milford Road, Fiordland National Park (23 September 1983) (Map 1) Road clearing; 3 caught, 1 killed

During the winter of 1983 a succession of storm cycles led to a number of large avalanches crossing the Milford Road (Figure 4.13). Vehicles were damaged and in some cases blown completely off the road. At that time there was no formal program for the forecasting of avalanches on the Milford. On the 21st of September, avalanches crossed the highway on both sides of the Homer Tunnel leaving deposits on the road 100m across and up to 12m deep. The avalanches closed the road, leaving a bus, 13 cars and employees of Ministry of Works and Development (MWD) trapped at the Milford Sound side of the Homer Tunnel. Efforts to clear the road began on the 23rd of September. Contractors were employed to clear the

debris with the aim of opening the road late in the day. During the briefing on what was to be done the MWD supervisor commented to the contractors that under normal circumstances they should not be in the area. However, the intention was to clear the road in order for people to leave Milford, after which the road would again be closed. The contractors who were operating two bulldozers commenced work clearing snow in the vicinity of the West Portal just before 10.30 am. Rain increased in intensity and became a full-blown storm accompanied by thunder and lightning (approximately 280mm of rain fell that day). Because the only high elevation weather station was inoperable, there was

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Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

Figure 4.13:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Weather Map: 23 September 1983

no information regarding the snowfields above the road. Radio communications were also compromised since the VHF radio system had been taken out by a lightning storm. Only one of the contractors wore an avalanche transceiver. The supervisor left the site with the intention of returning around lunchtime. The level of rain and avalanche activity increased throughout the morning. Because of this the men sheltered for lunch in the cab of a vehicle parked in the portal of the tunnel. By the time the men finished their lunch the supervisor still had not returned. With reservations the two contractors returned to work. They were on the

first and second zigzags working about 200m apart. They cut a narrow path just wide enough to let a bus pass through. Visibility was poor and at times the men lost sight of each other. At one point on the second zigzag, a size 3.5 wet snow avalanche (off Gulliver into the Cleddau Valley) almost engulfed the bulldozer and driver but at the last moment the flow changed direction and ran into the Cleddau riverbed. Shortly after this, one of the bulldozers became bogged in the snow. A short discussion between the two operators resulted in the decision to free the dozer and leave the area. The operable dozer was brought behind the bogged machine

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to push. As it travelled down the narrow track the rain and snowmelt poured down behind it and banked up over 1m deep on the 10° incline. The storm was intense and thunder could be heard over the noise of the machines. About 400m away there were nine MWD personnel parked in two vehicles at the Upper Cleddau Number 1 bridge, waiting for the road to open so they could pass.

motioned for the supervisor to climb into the cab of the bulldozer with him but the supervisor chose to shelter on the downward side of the machine, crouching low. The driver of the bulldozer shut the door and ducked down by the pedals of the machine. The noise of the avalanche was deafening and within about eight seconds of the supervisor’s warning the air blast hit with tremendous force. The

Figure 4.14:  Up turned Bulldozer at the Milford Road Avalanche site 23 September 1983 (Photo: Colin Monteath).

At this point the supervisor returned. Leaving a man in the truck they arrived in, the supervisor approached the bogged bulldozer, carrying a steel cable over his shoulder. One of the bulldozer drivers opened his cab door to talk to the supervisor when the supervisor yelled, “Look out!” The driver looked up to see a huge avalanche travelling from about 1800m above the road. The driver

back window and several side windows of the cab were blown in and the driver was covered in glass. Several seconds later the mass of snow hit the road. Because of the huge vertical force, the snow exploded outwards. Rocks were violently thrown about and one caused significant damage to the bulldozer. The size 5 avalanche scattered debris over 300m beyond the accident site. The bulldozer was pushed and

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Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

tumbled end over end, landing upside down and more than half submerged in the avalanche debris (Figure 4.14). The engine was still running. The driver managed to free himself from the snow and debris inside the cab. He climbed out one of the small windows in the floor of the cab only to return shortly thereafter to shut off the engine. From inside the cab the driver then heard the supervisor groaning under the machine. At the moment that the avalanche hit the site, the two bulldozers were about 60m apart. When the debris came to rest, it had tumbled and pushed the two bulldozers to within 15m of each other. The avalanche did not damage the second machine and the operator escaped unharmed. The driver of the upside down bulldozer called out to the other bulldozer operator. He informed the operator that the supervisor was buried and needed help. He then began to search for the buried supervisor with a small steel spade. The operator of the undamaged bulldozer ran towards Milford to get help. About this time the worker who had been waiting in the supervisor’s truck also ran towards Milford. The two men were later met about 10km down the road at First View. They had narrowly missed another large avalanche off Gulliver further down the valley. The two MWD vehicles parked at the Upper Cleddau Number 1 Bridge also turned and drove back to Milford. Back at the accident site the bulldozer driver smashed the plastic air cleaner on the upturned machine and managed to wriggle underneath on his back. He located one of the supervisor’s hands and felt a return squeeze from the still buried

supervisor. He could not dig from this position so he tried to dig down beside the machine. He used the spade to chip away at the hard debris and used his hands to scoop loose material out of the hole he created. Eventually he located one of the supervisor’s boots and the now tangled steel cable that the supervisor had been carrying over his shoulder. After exposing the lower leg, the contractor felt unsuccessfully for a pulse behind the knee. He twisted the leg hoping for a response but there was none. In desperation, the driver brought the undamaged bulldozer over to the upturned machine and tried to drag it away using the blade of one machine hooked over the blade of the other. Driving the bulldozer on the hard and uneven debris was extremely difficult and he was unsuccessful in these manoeuvres. About 40 minutes had passed since the avalanche struck and there was no sign of life from the supervisor. Although the bulldozer driver had expected help to arrive, none came; and with the rain getting heavier, no wet weather gear and further avalanches occurring about the site, the contractor made the decision to leave and get help. He walked to the supervisor’s vehicle parked nearby (the windows had been blown out but the vehicle was mobile) and drove towards Te Anau. Eventually he came to the locked Hollyford gates controlling traffic over the road. He smashed through these in the truck. Just after 3.00 pm, at Cascade Lodge, the bulldozer driver was finally able to call the Police in Invercargill and alert them of the accident.

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The weather cleared on the following morning. Police and Department of Conservation rescue staff flew into the avalanche site. They were able to locate the body of the supervisor from the accident site description given by the bulldozer driver. Two rescuers spent 20 minutes digging before the victim could be removed from the snow beneath the bulldozer. It was later determined that the MWD supervisor had died of asphyxia.

The road between Te Anau and Milford was finally cleared of snow and reopened on the 7th of November 1983. At the time of the supervisor’s death on the Milford Road, there were no avalanche management programme or rescue procedures in place. Largely as a result of this fatality, much investment has gone into producing what is now considered one of the leading avalanche management programmes in the world.

Source: COR84/362 The Press, 24 September 1983 The Press, 29 October 1983 Wayne Carran (Personal Communication)

37 Mt Rolleston, Arthurs Pass National Park (25 January 1984) (Map 7) Alpine climbing; 1 caught, 1 killed

On the 25th of January, an army mountaineering training group set out to climb Mt Rolleston. Their route ascended Rome Ridge, which leads to the low peak of the mountain. The group made good progress and by early afternoon had climbed past Rome Gap. Spread out along the ridge, the climbers took turns to find the best route. The terrain was essentially covered with snow but not sufficiently steep to require a rope, so all the climbers moved independently of each other. At 1.45 pm, someone called out “Man gone”. Members of the group looked up to see one man sliding and then tumbling down the Bealey Face. The falling climber initiated two small wet snow avalanches, followed by a much larger avalanche from the steep terrain above the chute.

The moving snow impeded the climber’s efforts to self-arrest. He dropped into a large snow chute and then disappeared out of sight. The remaining climbers grouped together to assess the situation. They could not see where the fallen climber had gone so they lowered the group leader down by rope, about 50m to a better viewing point. The group was carrying a radio but a call for help was unsuccessful. The group started to descend down the chute. The terrain got steeper and a number of waterfalls and associated holes had to be by-passed. In time each hole was checked for signs of the missing climber. By 8.00 pm the group had searched all the bergschrunds and holes and had reached the Bealey Slide. Further attempts had been made

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to radio for help, all of which had been unsuccessful. The climbers chose to make camp there and send out two members of the group to Arthurs Pass Village to raise the alarm for the missing climber. A rescue team of fourteen was on site by mid-afternoon the next day. Bad weather had restricted helicopter access forcing them to approach by foot. Rescuers were concerned about the avalanche hazard that existed on the slopes above the site. Searching of the lower slopes continued until nightfall but with no success. The following day the weather conditions were even worse. No searching was possible on that day. It was not until the third day that a small search team was flown into the area. Still restricted by the weather they were only able to land at the base of the lower waterfall. They ascended back up the chute. By mid-day

they had searched the first waterfall but found no trace of the missing climber. They continued up. On approaching the next waterfall they saw a pot lid lying on the snow. Looking into the waterfall hole the pot matching the lid could be seen. They decided to search this hole and after building an anchor one person was lowered down. At the bottom of the hole, under the ice, the body of the missing climber was found. There was no sign of life and it appeared the body had not moved since coming to rest in the position it was found. Still fully dressed and wearing his pack, there was no sign of the climber trying to get access to any survival gear. A post-mortem examination identified minor lacerations to the body and skull but the likely cause of death was hypothermia.

Source: COR 84/1107

38 Low Peak, Mt Rolleston, Arthurs Pass National Park (28 October 1984) (Map 7) Alpine climbing; 1 killed

On the 27th of October, five climbers set off from Arthurs Pass with the intention of climbing Mt Rolleston the following day. They spent the night in a snow shelter just off Rome Ridge. The following morning four of the five climbed up Rome Ridge to Low Peak, reaching the summit around 2.30â&#x20AC;&#x2030;pm. The group stopped for lunch but after about fifteen minutes the weather appeared to be deteriorating so they

began their descent of Rome Ridge. The climbers moved off the summit and were on the first steep section of the descent. The last member of the party to descend was down-climbing but when she turned to begin a traverse, she lost her footing and fell. Initially she moved slowly as she selfarrested, but the snow around her also began to move. About 50m down the slope, she hit a rock and, although still

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not moving fast, lost control. The slope steepened and the group lost sight of their companion.

site and the helicopter returned to the village, along with the two searchers from the group on foot.

The leader of the group immediately went to find the missing climber while the other two returned to the snow shelter (and the fifth member of the party who had remained at the shelter). Two of the people at the shelter then departed to get help while the third returned to the accident site to assist in the search for the fallen climber.

The following morning search efforts intensified, and despite marginal flying conditions a number of small teams were flown onto the site. The avalanche debris above and below the pack was thoroughly probed and the area checked for visual signs. However as weather conditions were deteriorating, the rescuers were ordered to return to the road. While they were moving down the debris through a gorged area, the body of the missing climber was found. The body was partly buried, with only a lower leg protruding from the snow. The head was under almost a metre of debris and the outer layer of clothing had almost been ripped off. The rescuers secured the body and walked out to the road.

The large snow chute leading down from Rome Ridge had avalanched, and the resulting debris was described as covering â&#x20AC;&#x153;a considerable areaâ&#x20AC;?. The two climbers found their companionâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s pack and helmet (along with a few items that had escaped from her pack) but after searching and probing with their ice axes for about two hours they could find no other signs of the missing person. Meanwhile, the two climbers who went for help eventually made it out to Arthurs Pass and raised the alarm. A helicopter was organised and departed from the Park Headquarters at 8.00 pm. There were no other signs of the climber found at the

On the afternoon of the 31st of October a clearing in the weather allowed a helicopter to enter the area and recover the avalanche victim. The cause of death was later identified as asphyxia due to chest compression, severe head injury and possible hypothermia.

Source: COR84/1587

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39 Murchison Glacier, Mt Cook National Park (10 September 1987) (Map 5) Ski touring; 1 caught, 1 killed

A party of three ski tourers flew into the head of the Tasman Glacier on the 5th of September. They stayed that night at Tasman Saddle Hut and then toured on to Murchison Hut the following day. On the 10th of September the group left the hut with the intention of climbing Brodrick Peak via Classen Saddle. They had toured in that area the day before and had skied some exhilarating lines amongst the seracs below the Classen Saddle. By mid-day the group had reached the summit of the peak and was heading back to the hut. The weather had been deteriorating during the day, with clouds increasing and strong northwesterly winds blowing. As they reached the saddle, visibility was limited due to cloud and wind blown snow. The group’s tracks from the morning were still visible but snow was quickly drifting in. The skiers picked up the pace so that they could follow these tracks to the lower glacier. The route took them to the true left of a large icefall. At 2.00 pm, the group was traversing through steep terrain above some seracs and a large ice cliff. Two of the skiers traversed high which involved some side stepping. The third skier opted to drop lower down in order to ski one of the exhilarating lines sampled the day before. The path the third skier chose was not as safe as the higher route because it was closer to the ice cliffs and the avalanche danger was increasing as the northwest winds developed. The third skier dropped down and out of sight from the other two. One of the pair traversing higher triggered

an avalanche (Figure 4.15). Neither of the pair was caught but the debris was funnelled down a chute between two large seracs. The avalanche occurred approximately 10-15 minutes after separating from the third skier. The pair instantly became concerned about their friend. They skied to a better vantage point to call out. There was no reply. Another group of ski tourers could be seen below and the two skiers called out to them to find out if they had seen the missing skier. The group had seen avalanche debris come down but had not realised that someone had been caught. There was no sign of the missing skier so a transceiver search was initiated. The debris was searched from the top down and a faint signal was found near the bottom of the slope. The signal could not be pinpointed and was not getting any stronger despite an extensive search. Just as all search options seemed exhausted the victim’s pack was found sitting out on the undisturbed snow slope off to the true right of the avalanche debris and below the ice cliffs. The pack’s straps were broken and the points of the crampons strapped to the back of the pack were bent over, indicating a fall of some violence. It was established that the missing skier must have been swept into the crevasse, further up the slope. This crevasse was about 2-3m across – a perfect terrain trap. One of the pair from the original party was lowered into the crevasse for a look. At the same time, two people headed to the hut to raise the alarm.

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The skier was lowered 40m into the crevasse. He detached from the rope and down climbed a further 20m to where a strong transceiver signal could be heard. A shovel was lowered down and the victim was uncovered but was found dead. Throughout this time, the icefall above the crevasse was still active. Further avalanches threatened the accident site and the weather had deteriorated. The remaining skiers decided to abandon their rescue efforts. The rescuer made his way back up to the rope and was hauled

back to the top of the crevasse and the two parties made their way back to the hut. The two surviving skiers were picked up by rescue helicopter and taken to Mt Cook Village. The exact circumstances of the accident w i l l n e ve r b e k n ow n . Howe ve r, information indicated that the skier died from injuries sustained in the fall (approximately 70m), and the burial in the crevasse compounded the situation. A storm lasting two days blanketed the area with 1m of new snow so it was not

Figure 4.15:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Murchison Glacier Avalanche Site Diagram Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 85


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until the 13th of September that a rescue team inspected the site. The site remained exposed to high avalanche danger and threatening ice-cliffs. It was too dangerous

to expose the rescue team to a ground search. Consequently the search was called off and the body was never recovered.

Source: FMC Bulletin 101, March 1990, pages 28, 29 COR 88/1011 Allan Uren (Personal Communication)

40 Zurbriggen Ridge, Mt Cook, Mt Cook National Park (17 January 1988) (Map 4) Alpine climbing; 3 killed

On the 14th of January three climbers (an Englishman and two Americans) met at Mt Cook Village and decided to climb together.

In the early morning of the 16th of January the three climbers flew into Plateau Hut and found perfect climbing conditions. They spent the day in the hut

Figure 4.16:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Weather Map: 17 January 1988 Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 86


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and at about 1.30 am the next morning they were seen leaving the hut by another party. Several hours later their lights could be seen at the rock step at the bottom of the Zurbriggen Ridge, the route they had intended to take (no other routes were thought to have been considered by the party). This was the last time the climbers were seen. The weather on the 17th of January deteriorated throughout the day. Cloud eventually obscured the Main Divide and it was very windy. Snow conditions were described as “soft”. The weather was much the same for the next two days with snow falling on the 19th of January (Figure 4.16). Early on the morning of the 20th January, a formal search began for the missing climbers. Rescue personnel flew to the

Zurbriggens Ridge area but 50-60 knot winds made flying difficult and the search was called off. No signs of the missing climbers were seen. On the morning of the 21st of January weather conditions eased and a thorough search of the area was conducted by helicopter but again no trace of the climbers or their belongings was seen. The search was called off that afternoon with further checks of likely areas planned as ice and snow melted. The Coronial inquest into the missing climbers found that it is likely that all three men had been caught by an ice avalanche when on the lower slopes of the Zurbriggen Ridge. They probably had been swept into one of the many crevasses at the base of the ridge and then covered by snow and ice debris.

Source: COR88/545

41 Caroline Face, Mt Cook, Mt Cook National Park (24 November 1988) (Map 4) Alpine climbing; 1 caught, 1 killed

On the 23rd of November a solo climber signed in at the Park Visitor Centre, then made his way up the Tasman Valley to Ball Shelter. His entry in the intention book at the hut read, “24/11/88… up Ball Glacier at 1.00 am. Take a look at the Caroline Face or possibly up to Ball Pass”. The climber was reported overdue on the 27th of November and a helicopter search was initiated. On the ridge leading up to the base of the Caroline Face, footprints were found on the normal approach route

and their pattern was consistent with that of an ascending climber. At the base of the ice cliffs, the footprints disappeared and there was no sign of any descending prints (Figure 4.17). The weather at the time did not allow an air search of the upper slopes. Because of threatening ice cliffs, rescuers could not risk a ground search. It was not until the 29th of November that the weather allowed another air search. The air search continued for five hours, with no sign of the missing climber. At this

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point all search efforts were terminated. It was not until the 18th of January that a ski plane pilot advised the national park personnel that he had seen something red below the main rib of the Lower Caroline Face. A search team accessed the area by helicopter and recovered the body of the missing climber. The body was found in the original search area but had been covered with avalanche debris at the time of the initial search. The body had

subsequently been exposed by warmer summer weather melting the snow. The post-mortem examination showed that the victim had sustained multiple injuries. Due to the nature of the face, it is highly likely that the climber was avalanched off the mountain. However, few details are known about the fate of the climber as his fall could have been caused by climber error. The only conclusive

Figure 4.17: Caroline Face Avalanche Site Diagram

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information was that his body was found in avalanche debris. This may have been a part of the incident or the body could

have been buried by debris after the fact.

Source: COR 89/402

42 Northwest Couloir, Mt Cook, Mt Cook National Park (11 January 1989) (Map 4) Alpine climbing; 1 killed

A little after 3.00 am on Wednesday the 11th of January, four climbers left the Empress Hut intending to undertake a grand traverse of Mt Cook/Aorangi. However, as two of the party had to turn back due to a lost crampon, the remaining two companions changed plans and decided to climb the Low Peak of Mt Cook, ascending and descending by the Northwest Couloir route. They climbed the couloir, arriving on Low Peak at about 11.00 am and began their descent. At the bottom of the couloir the climbers set up a belay in order to lower the first climber through steep ground. Small amounts of surface snow had â&#x20AC;&#x153;come downâ&#x20AC;? during the descent but the climbers were not worried. However, as the last climber started to down-climb the final four metres of the chute, loose moving snow, ice and rock came down from above, knocking the climber off his feet. The climber lost consciousness, thought to be the result of ice or rock within the

debris hitting the back of his head beneath his helmet. The climber below made his way back up to the injured man. Once there, he lowered and pulled him down and across to a point where he could be made comfortable in a sleeping bag while the debris continued to fall. As darkness was falling the surviving climber decided to stay the night before going for help in the morning. The injured man later died at about 10.00 pm. At first light the climber returned to Empress Hut and raised the alarm. However, with deteriorating weather it was not until four days later that rescuers could recover the body of the climber. It was later determined the climber died as a result of the head injury in combination with hypothermia. Note: The authors have interpreted the description of the circumstances of the death as likely evidence of loose snow and ice avalanche.

Source: COR89/767

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43 Freds Stream, Ben Ohau Range (16 July 1989) (Map 3) Heli skiing; 1 caught, 1 killed

At 12.20 pm on the 16th of July, a guided party of heli-skiers lifted off from Glentanner heli-port for a day of fresh powder skiing in the Ben Ohau Ranges. Light southerly snow had fallen to low levels on the 24th and 25th of June, followed by a seven-day fine spell. This new snow fell onto a layer of melt freeze snow that had been deposited by an earlier westerly storm event. A northwest storm passed through the region on the 4th -5th July (51mm rain in Mt Cook Village), followed by a slow moving low pressure systsem that affected the region for over a week. The weather cleared on the 14th

with 20-30cm of new snow in the Ben Ohau Range (Figure 4.18). The party consisted of a lead guide, a tail guide and four guests. The first run of the day was on a northeast aspect. Snow conditions consisted of 20–25cm of light dry powder snow and the skiing was excellent. The second run was to be on Whispering Silk, a southeastern aspect at the head of Freds Stream. After landing at the dropoff point, (elevation 2275m) the party skied a short distance down the ridge to the top of the run. The snow around the ridge top was wind blown with some

Figure 4.18:  Weather Map: 16 July 1989 Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 90


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sastrugi and it was so firm the skis barely left a mark. The lead guide expressed some concern about the slope, saying they should ski one at a time as a precautionary measure. He skied down alone, (approximately 10m below the party) onto a prominent rib in the centre of the slope. He attempted to probe the snow with his ski pole but found the snow to be too firm. After no success with the ski pole test, he continued skiing down the slope onto softer snow. The lead guide was about 40m down

the slope when the remainder of the party heard and felt a major settlement in the slope that the guide was skiing. A moderate sized slab avalanche propagated from 2m below where they stood (crown wall 0.8m). The tail guide shouted a warning. Looking back, the lead guide saw the avalanche and attempted to ski out of its path, by skiing down and to the left, beneath a large rock outcrop. However, the slab propagation extended skierâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s left to an area of significantly greater loading

Figure 4.19:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Freds Stream Avalanche Site Diagram Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 91


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa - New Zealand 

(crown wall 1.7m), producing a second and much larger avalanche (Figure 4.19). Just as the guide was approaching the rock outcrop the first wave of the second avalanche reached him. Riding over the rocks the debris was airborne when it hit him. He disappeared instantly and did not reappear as the avalanche moved down the slope. Before the avalanche came to a stop, the tail guide made a call by radio to

the helicopter pilot, informing him of the accident and requesting assistance. Directing the clients to remain at the top of the slope, the tail guide descended quickly through the avalanche debris, initiating a transceiver search as he went. It took the tail guide about twenty minutes to locate the lead guide. He was found near the toe of the avalanche. The tail guide dug quickly, exposing the victim. Buried under one metre of debris,

Figure 4.20:  Profile: Freds Stream 18 July 1989 (Bay and Brailsford) Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 92


Chapter 4: Accounts of Avalanche Accidents

he was found in a head and face down position. When uncovered, the victim was not breathing and no pulse could be found. CPR was impossible with the victim still partially buried so the tail guide continued to dig. He had almost completely uncovered the victim when the Mount Cook National Park rescue team arrived. They began CPR immediately but this proved to be unsuccessful in reviving the guide. All clients, guides and rescue personnel were airlifted from the site and an accident investigation was carried out the following day. The avalanche started near the ridge top on a SE aspect, with an incline of 25°-35°. The hard slab avalanche was triggered by

the guide and was a total width of 90m, with a maximum crown wall height of 1.7m. The size of the avalanche was estimated at size 2.5 with a deposition of 1-1.5m deep, 30m wide and extending 100m in length. The cause of death was consistent with asphyxia. The victim had sustained minor lacerations and bruising to the head and face but these were not contributing factors to the cause of death. The nature of the snowpack consisted of a thick hard rain crust below a thin layer of facets, developed over a seven-day clear period. This was then buried by an estimated 1m of new wind loaded snow (Figure 4.20).

Source: COR 89/1153 FMC Bulletin, Number 108, December 1999 Event Report; Jim Bay – CMH Heliski guide

44 Separation Col, Mt D’Archiac, Mt Cook National Park (2 Sept 1989) (Map 5) Alpine climbing; 2 caught, 1 killed

Tw o e x p e r i e n c e d c l i m b e r s f ro m Christchurch set out on the 1st of September to climb Mt D’Archiac via the Havelock River catchment. Leaving their car at Erewhon Station, they forded the icy Clyde and Havelock Rivers enroute to Forbes Biv. On the following day, their intention was to continue up the Forbes Valley and ascend the South Forbes Glacier to Separation Col. From this point they planned to climb a new route on the south face of Mt D’Archiac. A cold southerly air stream had passed over the region in the few days immediately prior to the accident (Figure 4.21). An

estimated 15-25cm of new snow had fallen in the Rangitata headwaters during the storm cycle with generally light southerly winds. The climbing pair left the bivouac at 5.00 am the next morning. Expecting to spend the night out on the mountain, they carried bivouac gear, avalanche transceivers and shovels as well as their climbing equipment. They made good progress up the South Forbes Glacier and by mid-morning had almost reached Separation Col. As they neared the col, the terrain steepened but was not so steep

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Figure 4.21:  Weather Map: 2 September 1989

as to require using the rope. Immediately below the col, the climber in the front triggered a small soft slab avalanche (the second climber was only a few metres behind). The avalanche swept the climbers off their feet and down the slope below. Both climbers were completely engulfed by the debris. However, the first climber managed to slip his pack off, which created less resistance in his struggle within the avalanche. He could recall the last thing he said to his partner was “get your pack off… get rid of your pack!” Both the climbers were swept into a crevasse about 60m down the slope and a huge shower of debris continued to pile in

on top of them. In the momentum of the fall, the first climber hit a false floor in the crevasse but continued falling forwards into a downhill chamber. The second climber was not so lucky. Having hung on to his pack, his fall stopped short on the false floor and he was subsequently buried in the avalanche debris (Figure 4.22). The first climber was fortunate to be only partially buried and after some effort was able to dig himself free. In a dazed state, he managed to climb to the lip of the crevasse. He immediately saw a dark shape down on the lower part of the glacier. He ran down the slope, hoping it to be his friend only to discover it was his pack. He grabbed his shovel and running

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back up the slope, set about searching for the second climber with his avalanche transceiver. He scanned back and forth across the slope but finally realized that the second climber must also have been buried in the same crevasse further up the slope. He moved as quickly as he could. As he arrived at the lip of the crevasse, he could hear the signal from his partner’s transceiver. He began digging with his shovel. Two metres down he struck the climber’s pack and then uncovered his hand.

Digging frantically, he uncovered the climber’s head. The victim was not breathing and no pulse could be found. The victim was still entrapped in a large quantity of snow and was in such a position that it was not possible to do CPR. The victim had died from suffocation. The surviving climber was exhausted. He sat by the lip of the crevasse, in a state of shock, trying to work out what he should do. In time, he realized that his

Figure 4.22:  Separation Col Avalanche Site Diagram

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Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

only course of action was to head down and organise a recovery while the weather was still fine. He descended to Forbes Biv for the night and by next morning had walked out to Erewhon Station to raise the alarm. A rescue team was dispatched from Mt Hutt Station by helicopter on the morning of the 3rd of September. After the location had been identified, two people were set down on the site. They recovered the victim’s body from about

5m down inside the crevasse, under 2.5m of debris. It was thought that the avalanche was the result of an accumulation of wind blown snow on a lee aspect that slid on an old sun crust. The avalanche occurred at ridge top on a NE aspect slope, at 2000m elevation. The starting zone incline was 40°. The crown wall was 25cm deep and about 15m across, and was estimated to be a size 2 avalanche.

Source: Avalanche Report - Steve Shreiber & Richard Micheal COR90/348 FMC Bulletin, Number 10, June 1992 Paul Rogers, (personal communication)

45 Mt Olympus (11 August 1990) (Map 6) Skiing; 1 killed

In the afternoon of the 10th of August it began snowing lightly at Mt Olympus as a slow moving shallow depression and associated frontal system centred to the west of the South Island. The new snow was light and dry (approximately 100kg/m3) and as a result of light to moderate northeast winds, there was not much transportation of the new snow. Temperatures were relatively warm and did not drop below -2°C overnight. By 8.00 am the following morning approximately 20cm of new snow had accumulated over the old snow surface (Figure 4.23). Since no settlement or avalanches were noted as a result of ski testing, the lower part of the ski area

was opened to the 21 people staying at the club. However, by 10.00 am conditions had deteriorated and the ski field closed. It had started to snow again (averaging 3cm/ hour) with periods of intense falls (up to 10cm/hour). There was little wind and visibility was very poor. It was suggested to those skiers heading home to do so quickly. There were 17 people intending to leave the club. It was decided the people who were leaving would travel down to the bottom of the access tow together. There was a delay of 30 minutes until everyone was ready. The first group of 10 people left the main accommodation at around

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Figure 4.23:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Profile: Olympus - Top of Main Tow 8 August 1990 (Hensley)

11.00 am while a second group of 7 people followed 10 minutes later. Because of the perceived avalanche hazard, the members of each group were divided into pairs. They travelled with 2-3m between partners and 8-10m between pairs. Both parties followed the summer access road which cuts high across the face below and to the east of the accommodation hut, then turns sharply and traverses back to the bottom of the access tow. Because of the new snow, progress was slow even on skis. The leader of the first group fell and lost his radio and then a member near the back of the same group fell and required assistance to put his ski

back on. At about 11.20 am just as the front of the group reached the corner of the road, an avalanche swept through the rear of the group, with another following in quick succession. The two avalanches (about 30 seconds apart) had occurred without warning. The first avalanche caught one person at the back of the group and swept him down the slope and out of sight. The second avalanche caught another person at the rear of the party and carried him approximately 100m (Figure 4.24). The second avalanche victim was eventually able to extract himself (he had sustained only minor injuries) and scrambled down the avalanche path to

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Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

the bottom of the access tow while the rest of the party continued on down the track. From the bottom of the access tow the top hut was notified that someone was missing in an avalanche.

above rescue efforts. Two members of the second party proceeded down the avalanche path looking for clues and spot probing, meeting the others at the bottom.

By this time the second party (7 people) appeared on the access road and was informed of the missing skier. Because of the avalanche hazard, everyone waited until the second party arrived at the bottom of the access tow so that the second party would not be traversing

Another person attempted to walk to the car park 1/2 km away to fetch avalanche probes but turned back. Several rescuers then made their way back up the debris to the top hut to get the rescue equipment since it was decided that no one in the top hut had the skills to bring the equipment

Figure 4.24:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Mt Olympus Ski Field Avalanche Site Diagram

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down. The rest of the party began to search (3-4 with transceivers and the others probing with ski poles with the baskets removed). Those in the top hut, after some confusion with radio incompatibility, eventually managed to contact the owners of Ryton Station for assistance. At 12.00 am a party of three with a search dog departed for the area from the station. However, the initial message had not been clear and it was not until some 10 minutes later that they learnt a person was missing. At that time they urged those in the top hut to call the Police. En-route up the mountain the Ryton party met up with the mountain manager who was clearing the road and had no idea there was someone missing. The rescue equipment arrived at the avalanche site from the top hut at about 12.35 am. The mountain manager with the Ryton party arrived about 10 minutes later. The mountain manager then

assumed control of the rescue effort and the search dog was put to work. The dog worked the debris down to the access road and when the decision was made to search below this point the dog quickly indicated a find (at about 12.50 am). It took another 10 minutes to dig out the victim and CPR was initiated. Resuscitation efforts produced no response and after 30 minutes the victim was taken to the Ryton Station vehicle and driven down the road. The victim was later found to have died as a result of traumatic asphyxia. Both avalanches were point release avalanches with failure occurring within the new snow. The victim was found buried at the toe of the debris under 1-2m of loose-unconsolidated snow. The victim had been swept approximately 350m and was found in a sitting position in the recently cleared road with his equipment beside him.

Source: COR 90/1197 Report of the Mt Olympus Ski Field Avalanche Accident, compiled by Al Moore for NZMSC

46 Dore Pass, Milford Track (18 May 1991) (Map 1) Tramping; 1 killed

On the 14th of May 1991 a Dutch tramper in his early twenties began walking the Milford track from Sandfly Point to Glade. He indicated a desire to cross over Dore Pass and was warned against doing so by staff at the Department of Conservation Area Office. The young man was poorly equipped for

an alpine crossing. Although DOC staff arranged to have a boat pick him up, the man decided to walk over Dore Pass in order to save the money for the boat ride. The weather on the15th through 17th of May was cold and wet with westerlies blowing and with snow falling to bush line

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on the 16th. Heavy rain was recorded at Milford during those three days (50.2mm, 68.7mm, and 13.5mm). On the 16th, while crossing from Mintaro to Clinton Forks the Dutch man talked to a second tramper who had walked over Dore Pass the day before. The second tramper reported he had encountered calf deep snow on the Dore Pass crossing. The Dutch tramper commented in the Clinton Forks hut book that when he arrived at the hut his hands were so cold from the crossing in heavy cold rain, he could not use his hands for some time to light a fire.

Pass, the second tramper lost sight of the Dutch tramper’s footprints and thought perhaps he had turned around and gone back. The snow was knee deep and firm, giving solid footholds. A search was mounted for the missing man and on the 23rd the body of the Dutch tramper was recovered at the bottom of the bluffs in a steep gully in avalanche debris. His battered and broken body, along with torn clothes, was an indication of the magnitude of the slide that fell 500m over steep tussock covered terrain and several bluffs. Most of the snow had disappeared by then as a result of the rain although the two sets of tracks were still visible above. The Dutch tramper’s tracks were lower and were slightly off route, thereby missing the natural bench.

The Dutch tramper spent two days at Clinton Forks Hut waiting for the weather to clear. On the 18th the weather was fine and clear so he left to cross the Pass. The second tramper came down from Mintaro and went over the Pass approximately five hours behind the Dutch tramper. At the top of bluffs on the Glade side of the Source: Alistar Pearce, Department of Conservation, Te Anau

47 County Stream, Waitaha, Hokitika (28 May 1991) (Map 5) Tramping; 1 caught, 1 not found (presumed dead)

On the 21st of June a 23-year-old male was reported missing to Police. After a lengthy investigation, the young man’s car was located at the road end of the Hokitika River on the 3rd of July. Information supplied to Police indicated that the man had gone into the Whitcombe Pass area to find the Ivory Lake hut. An air search was initiated, checking all hut intention books in the

greater area. Entries in a number of hut books in the Whitcombe Valley indicated the missing man had been in the area in late May. Various tributaries and parallel drainages to the Whitcombe River were also checked. The man’s movements could be traced from the Whitcombe Valley to Ivory Lake to Top Waitaha hut and lastly in the County Stream hut. His last hut book entry, “Off for a look up the County,

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maybe over into the Smythe,” was on the 28th of May from County Stream hut. A ground search involving 40 searchers commenced the next day. There was a significant amount of snow above 1500m which created an avalanche danger to ground parties. Consequently helicopters were used to search areas above snow line and ground crews searched below. Search teams reported there had been an extensive amount of recent avalanche activity in the area. The only trace of the man was boot prints in soft sand in the County stream. Immediately up stream from this point the ground was covered in snow. Bad weather and further snowfalls forced all

searching to stop so it was not until early November that the search was resumed. In November, a ground team found a jacket belonging to the man at the head of County Stream. All further searches concentrated on this area but no other trace of the man was found. The area had been subjected to numerous avalanches over the winter months. Gravel and rock had been moved around with areas of old avalanche debris still remaining. It was determined that his body was most likely buried under rock, rubble or ice. The search was concluded and the man’s body was never recovered. Note: The authors have interpreted the description of the circumstances of the death as likely evidence of avalanche involvement.

Source: COR 91/639

48 Tukino Ski Area, Tongariro National Park (22 July 1991) (Map 8) Avalanche training course; 9 caught, 2 killed

A depression moving east over the North Island from the Tasman Sea produced a cold westerly airflow (Figure 4.25). By the 21st of July, at Whakapapa (on the northern flanks of Mt Ruapehu) around 20cm of new snow had been recorded from the storm cycle. Strong west winds were observed on the 22nd of July. Conditions were expected to deteriorate. On the afternoon of the 22nd of July (the third day of an avalanche course), eight members of the Tukino volunteer ski patrol and their instructor ventured out of the room and onto the snow. After a morning spent discussing factors

contributing to avalanches, the group elected to practice their avalanche assessment skills on an avalanche slope known as The Wall. The weather was described as “terrible, blowing a blizzard” and visibility was estimated at 500m. Equipped with three shovels, but without probes or transceivers, the party approached the avalanche path from the safety of a ridge to the true left of the path. Once they had ascended about a third to half way up the slope, the party moved out onto the slope (between 4 and 10m) and dug a pit about 2m deep (Figure 4.26). All members of the party gathered around

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Figure 4.25:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Weather Map: 21 July 1991

the pit and conducted shovel shear tests. They discovered three weak layers. The group discussed their findings and decided that the slope was not as stable as they had originally thought. As the party was about to move off the slope (at about 3.45 pm), the slope avalanched. The size 3 avalanche released about 30m above the party. Estimates place the crown wall about 60m wide and around 80cm deep (but up to 1.5m in places). The slide path was about 80m long. One member of the party managed to roll off the moving slab onto the ridge they had ascended. The remaining eight people were buried in close proximity (stacked on top of each other with five

people completely buried and three partially buried). While the member of the group who had escaped the avalanche ran back to the lodges to raise the alarm and get rescue equipment and assistance, those partially buried managed to extract themselves from the avalanche debris and begin to search for the others. Rescuers from the lodges joined those searching on site with rescue equipment. One victim was located close to the surface after he was heard calling out. Further victims were located beneath partially buried victims. As people who had been completely buried began to be uncovered and it was determined they

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Figure 4.26:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Tukino Ski Field Avalanche Site Diagram

were breathing, they were left partially buried in order for searchers to continue looking for victims. The first of the deceased was uncovered after 25 minutes at a burial depth of about 1.5m. Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful. The last buried person found was recovered after about 60 minutes when her hand was discovered near the leg of the person located before her. She was under approximately 2.5m of snow and was not breathing. Although resuscitation efforts began as soon as rescuers freed her from

the snow she did not regain consciousness. Despite a large and rapid mobilisation, the Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation was unable to transport rescue staff (including doctors) onto the accident site until approximately 75 minutes after the avalanche had occurred. Poor weather hampered the use of helicopters. The avalanche debris covered an area that was approximately 40m long by 20m wide, and was up to 2.5m deep. It was thought that several weaknesses within the

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Figure 4.27:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Profile: Tukino - Headwall 23 July 1991 (Irwin and Woods) Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 104


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snowpack contributed to the avalanche (Figure 4.27). The victims were carried about 40m and were finally located buried within about 3m2. Those fully buried were

found up to 2.5m in depth. The cause of death for both of the deceased was later determined as asphyxia.

Source: Report of the Tukino Ski Field Avalanche Accident, compiled by D. Bogie for NZMSC COR 92/000168 COR 92/000178 The Press, 23July 1991

49 Ohau Ski Area (10 August 1991) (Map 3) Avalanche control; 3 caught, 1 killed

Shallow early winter snow followed by long cold clear periods in July resulted in a weak snow base in the Mackenzie and Mt Cook areas of the South Island. Fluctuating freezing levels then produced a strong melt freeze layer. Following more snow, a return to cold clear weather saw weak snow develop on top of the melt freeze layer.

others began work digging out the bull wheel of the T-bar.

In the second week of August, depressions with associated frontal bands moving east across the south of the South Island produced large amounts of precipitation in the area, accompanied by moderate to strong winds from the west to northwest (Figure 4.28). The Ohau ski area had been closed for nearly a week.

When those on foot were about half way up the ridge, they turned to see that the person ascending on skis (about 50m below them) had ventured onto the bottom of the avalanche path adjacent to the ridge. As they were urging the person (via radio) to get off the slope, a large avalanche released above the skier. This avalanche triggered sympathetic avalanches on adjacent slopes on each side of the path and ridge.

Early in the afternoon on Saturday the 10th of August, five ski area staff travelled on a groomer to the top of the T-bar. From there, three staff began an avalanche control route by ascending a small ridge between avalanche paths that extended to the saddle above. Meanwhile the two

Of the three ascending to the saddle, two were walking up what was considered a safe route in the centre of the ridge, while the third climbed on skis to one side. The three staff undertaking avalanche control carried transceivers, while the two staff working below did not.

The person on skis was swept down the slope by the initial avalanche and partially buried, while the other two staff remained secure on the ridge above.

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Figure 4.28:  Weather Map: 10 August 1991

The sympathetic release on the true right of the first avalanche engulfed the bull wheel of the T-bar and the two staff clearing snow. A radio call to the base facilities alerted other staff to the emergency and a call was made to alert the emergency services. Ski area personnel and rescue equipment quickly arrived at the avalanche site. The partially buried skier was able to alert rescuers by waving an arm and two rescuers quickly dug him out. He had suffered a fractured arm. A probe line was formed by other rescuers and the remaining two buried victims were located. The first, who eventually regained consciousness, was found after

about fifteen minutes, face down under about 1.5m of snow. About five minutes later the second victim was located close by under about 2m of hard packed snow (Figure 4.29, 4.31). This person had probably been buried for around thirty minutes and did not regain consciousness. While a groomer took the two survivors to the base area and the third victim was still being dug out, a helicopter arrived with Police SAR staff who then took control of the avalanche site. All equipment and personnel were evacuated from the area. The cause of death of the deceased was later determined to be traumatic asphyxia. The avalanche was thought to have been produced by wind deposited snow

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producing a hard slab on top of weak faceted crystals supported by a melt freeze crust (Figure 4.30). Underlying the crust was depth hoar. The avalanche appeared to slide on a melt freeze layer, propagating to ground in many areas.

The combination of wind, precipitation and deep instabilities also resulted in large avalanches throughout the Mt Cook area.

Figure 4.29:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Ohau Avalanche Site Diagram

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Figure 4.30:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Profile: Ohau Ski Area 11 August 1991 (Hobbs and Young)

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Figure 4.31:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Ohau Avalanche Site 10 August 1991 (Photo: Mt Cook National Park Collection).

Source: The Ohau Ski Area Avalanche 10 August 1991, compiled by C. Hobbs for NZMSC COR 92/000404 The Press, 12 August 1991

50 Freshfield Glacier, Mt Cook National Park (26 December 1991) (Map 4) Alpine climbing; 3 caught, 2 killed

A group of seven Australian climbers were based in Plateau Hut during the Christmas period of 1991. Some members of the group had recently completed a ten-day alpine instruction course but the others were relatively inexperienced. They had flown to the Plateau on the 17th of December and spent the following eight days climbing in the area. On the 26th of December, they left Plateau Hut with the intention of descending into the Tasman

Valley via the Freshfield Glacier and using De La Beche hut as a base for a further seven days of climbing. They left Plateau Hut late in the morning. Roped together for glacier travel (configured as two pairs and one team of three), the party traversed over Glacier Dome and began descending the Freshfield Glacier. The glacier faces east and softens rapidly during the heat of the day.

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At the top of the glacier, one pair decided to “bum slide” down the slope, using their ice axes to control their speed. The team of three descended in the same fashion. As they were sliding, a small mass of wet snow began to build up around them. The mass of snow continued to increase and the climbers’ ice axes had little effect in slowing their descent. The trio lost control, tumbled over each other, and became tangled in their rope. The avalanche swept them past the first pair of climbers and over a crevasse. Further down the slope there was another crevasse. All three climbers were thrown into the crevasse then buried by the mass of wet snow. The two climbing pairs rushed to the edge of the crevasse and a climber was lowered onto the debris to begin searching. One person was uncovered after a short time but appeared to be dead. As the

search continued, a muffled call could be heard under the debris so a second searcher was lowered in to assist. After several minutes of digging, another victim was uncovered, conscious but in shock. He was lifted from the crevasse. With no shovels, digging for the third climber was exhausting work. After some time it was decided that one pair of climbers would remain at the site while the second pair would take the surviving climber to Haast Ridge Hut and raise the alarm for help. A rescue team arrived on site by helicopter and recovered the body of the third man. The cause of death of the two men was later determined as asphyxia. The surviving climber was found with an air pocket around his face. It was thought that without this he would certainly have suffocated as well.

Source: COR 92/000823 COR 92/000820

51 Broken River Ski Area (10 August 1992) (Map 6) Snow Sport Area Operations; 6 caught, 1 killed

At the Broken River Ski Area, heavy snowfalls in the early part of the season followed by cold air temperatures saw facets and depth hoar develop in the lower snowpack. Further heavy snow followed in mid-July. At the end of the first week in August, a strong northwest airflow lay over the South Island ahead of a cold front. By the

8th of August a depression had formed in association with the front and lay off south Westland. This system contained both warm and cold fronts that moved off to the east of the South Island on the 9th of August. By the following day, the low-pressure trough was replaced by a disturbed southwest flow (Figure 4.31).

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The system brought heavy rain and warm temperatures to the Canterbury region, with very heavy falls experienced at the area (142mm recorded over the duration of the storm). Freezing levels fluctuated between 1500 and 1800m, but on the evening of the 9th of August, temperatures dropped below zero and the snow began to re-freeze. On the morning of the 10th of August, after hearing ski reports of the neighbouring areas, Broken River staff decided to open the area to the public. It was felt that the rain and subsequent freeze would settle any instability. When the ski field manager got onto the field, he decided to open only the

Rugby Tow, since the Main Towrope was partially buried and there was not enough staff available to dig it out immediately. Conditions were very hard and icy, and eventually the groomer was brought up onto the field to improve conditions for skiers. The manager and two other club members rode to the top of the Rugby Tow and then traversed across to the Main Tow in order to dig out the rope. The manager began work about halfway down the towline, while the other two were spaced above him â&#x20AC;&#x201C; one at the top, the other lower down (Figure 4.32). Most skiers stopped for lunch at approximately 12.20 pm. Just before 1.00 pm, a large avalanche

Figure 4.31:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Weather Map: 10 August 1992 Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 111


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released within the area on a southeastfacing slope (Figure 4.33). Eyewitness accounts suggest the avalanche initiated on the slopes under Nervous Knob and propagated towards Sunny Peaks. One of the club members working near the top of the Main Tow saw the avalanche and shouted a warning to the ski area manager lower down the line to hold on to the rope. The slab failed in two sections connected by tension cracks. The first section (releasing under Nervous Knob) came down on the true right of the Rugby Tow, engulfed the groomer (and two occupants) and carried it down the hill. The Groomer was almost completely

buried and damaged but the occupants managed to extract themselves unassisted. A skier near the top of the tow was also caught but escaped without injury. The second and larger section encompassed the whole of the Main Tow and caught all three men working on it. Converging terrain allowed the avalanche to develop enough momentum to move the main tow shed downhill about 30m and a significant proportion of the avalanche material to continue over the lip of the basin and down much steeper slopes for a distance of another 600 to 700m. The two men working near the top of the

Figure 4.32:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Broken River Avalanche Site Diagram Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 112


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Figure 4.33:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Broken River Ski Area Avalanche Site (Photo: Peter Simpson)

tow escaped burial by holding onto the towrope and allowing the slab to slide away under them. The ski area manager lower down was completely buried. Approximately 45 rescuers were brought quickly onto the site, but even with the assistance of dogs, they were unable to locate the buried victim. Despite intensive searching over the next two days, the body of the ski field manager was not found until the 2nd of December. He had been buried in avalanche debris estimated as 20-30m deep. The slope angles of the starting zone beneath Nervous Knob were 35° or greater, moderating over the middle of the path before getting steeper again towards Sunny Peaks. The total length of the crown wall was estimated to be 600m with a crown height of between 1-2.2m.

The avalanche was a hard slab, assessed as size 4, and although initially sliding on old snow, went to ground. The instability was thought to have been the result of several factors: 1 Weak base layer caused by faceting in early season (Figure 4.34); 2 The extra weight placed on the snow by the rain (142mm water equivalent); 3 Flowing water in the snowpack; 4 Refreezing of the surface layers causing considerable tension; 5 The groomer working on the avalanche slope.

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Figure 4.34: Profile: Broken River 11 August 1992 (Kennedy)

Source: Owens, Morgan, Hobbs.(1992) COR 93/0245

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52 Porter Heights Ski Area (19 June 1994) (Map 6) Snow grooming; 1 caught, 1 killed

On the evening of Sunday the 19th of June 1994, sometime between 10.30 pm and 11.00 pm, an avalanche occurred which resulted in the destruction of a snow groomer and the death of the driver. The exact time and trigger of the avalanche is uncertain and may never be known but it is important to note that a period of significant seismic instability occurred in the area about the time that the avalanche took place. This factor makes this event unique and possibly the only event of its type in the world. The conditions at Porter Heights on the 19th of June were “early season conditions”, with a thin snow cover. Well

known for its high avalanche risk, Porter Heights has a well-established snow safety programme and the area’s operational procedures reflect that. Snow stability tests had been carried out on the 15th of June, defining the snowpack as stable at that time. However at the time of the accident the Snow Safety Officer was off the mountain, attending a pre-season first aid training course. During Saturday, the 18th of June, a northwest storm developed over the area (Figure 4.35). At Mt Hutt Ski Area that day, NW winds had increased to 45kph and by 2.00 pm the area had closed due to snow instability above the access

Figure 4.35:  Weather Map: 19 June 1994 Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 115


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road. Explosives used on the Mt Hutt Road produced slab avalanches caused by redistributed snow that reached the road. It was presumed that Porter Heights would experience similar conditions due to its location. After a period of lighter winds on Sunday morning, both Mt Hutt and Porter Heights had winds increase to strong NW, with some new snow. On Saturday 18th at approximately 3.00Â pm, a major earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale was centred near Arthurs Pass. This event did not appear to trigger any avalanche activity at the time. However, the overnight winds caused an increased wind loading of snow in the Libra and Stella Bowl areas of Porter Heights. So at 6.00 pm on Sunday evening when the grooming team arrived on the mountain to start pre-season grooming, conditions had changed. The two drivers assessed the conditions as acceptable and began work establishing the Stella Bowl access track early in the evening. This links the top of T-Bar 1 to the upper mountain. When groomers are cutting in a slope in this manner, weak layers in the snow pack can be evident as the blade cuts into the slope. That evening, no weak layers were apparent and the groomer drivers continued preparing the slopes. One machine worked the upper mountain. The second machine carried out grooming work on the lower mountain up to the Stella Bowl track. Unbeknown to those on the mountain that night, there was a significant aftershock at 10.43 pm, measuring 4.5 in the Richter scale, centred near Lake Coleridge. This probably triggered a size 3 avalanche in the Libra avalanche path.

At 11.00 pm the groomer driver operating on the upper mountain called the operator of the second groomer by radio. There was no reply. He then drove his groomer back down to the Stella Bowl area to find the second groomer over-turned, approximately 100m below the Stella Bowl track. The groomer was partially buried in avalanche debris, the cab was crushed, and the driver dead. The operator was not wearing an avalanche transceiver. Build-up of snow in the Libra start zone and the subsequent exposure to vehicles using the Stella Bowl cat track was a known hazard by personnel on the mountain that night. In making their operating decision that night, the drivers had used exposed rocks as reference points, which indicated that there was insufficient snow to pose a significant avalanche hazard. However, the degree of snow loading that night was underestimated. It is possible that the cutting of the track, effectively cutting away the base of the slope, contributed to the instability. However the track was prepared some four hours before the avalanche released. The groomer was travelling uphill at the time the avalanche occurred. As the driver sits on the left side of the machine combined with the limited visibility of night there would have been no warning of the avalanche. The uphill track of the groomer was torn into several pieces by the force of the avalanche. Even if the driver had attempted to counteract the force of the avalanche, the broken track would have rendered the groomer inoperable. Track marks remaining on the cat track

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indicated that the machine had slid backwards off the track. The back of the machine had dropped into a dip and the flow of debris pushing under the front of the groomer, flipped it backward end on end. The forces involved smashed all the windows and crushed the cab and seats to the level of the centre console. There was no roll cage fitted to the groomer so there was essentially no protection available to the driver (Figure 4.37). Snow groomers have an exceptionally low centre of gravity due to the wide tracks and distribution

of weight and ordinarily, the risk of a groomer actually overturning is very low. The driver died from chest injuries and crushing asphyxia caused by the rolled machine and not by the avalanche debris. The crown wall of the avalanche was 60-70m wide with an average depth of 45-50cm. The debris spread out across the slope 150-200m and ran 300m down slope, where it accumulated across the T-Bar 1 track (Figure 4.36). The fracture line profile prepared on the 20th of June shows an 80cm thick layer of old large

Figure 4.36:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Porter Heights Avalanche Site Diagram Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 117


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melt freeze grains overlain by almost a metre of mainly settled snow with frequent ice layers. The top 35cm (which probably represents new snow and/or snow transported during the 24 hours

before the avalanche) gave an easy shovel shear on an ice layer (Figure 4.38).

Figure 4.37:  Damaged Groomer at Porter Heights 19 June 1994 (Photo: NZMSC Archives).

Source: COR 93/0245 Owens (1995)

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Figure 4.38:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Porter Heights 20 June 1994 (Kennedy)

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53 Stewart Stream, Mt Cook National Park (17 September 1994) (Map 4) Tramping; 1 killed

On the 16th of September, an English tourist called in at the Park Headquarters. She registered her intention of tramping to Hooker Hut that day, spending the night and then of returning to the Mt Cook village the following day. On the evening of the 17th of September the manager of the Youth Hostel in the village rang the Department of Conservation to report that the tourist had not returned as she had indicated. A radio check to Hooker Hut was made that evening but there was no answer (the tourist had answered the radio check made the night before). The following morning, since there was still no sign of the tourist, a search party flew to Hooker Hut.

The hut was empty but the hut log indicated she had spent the night of the 16th, there and departed the next day. The DOC SAR team flew down the Hooker Valley. As they flew over Stewart Stream (about a 45 minute tramp from the hut) they observed an avalanche that had come down the gully. The avalanche was one of many to occur in the area at the time and was reported as size 5 (Figure 4.39). The rescuers made a search of the debris and eventually found and retrieved the body of the missing tramper. It appeared she had been crossing the stream en-route to Mt Cook Village when she was caught in the moving snow. At the inquest later it was revealed she had died of asphyxiation and severe head injuries.

Figure 4.39: Debris across Hooker Track - Stewart Stream 17 September 1994 (Photo: Mt Cook National Park Collection).

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54 Mt Rolleston, Arthurs Pass National Park (17 December 1994) (Map 7) Alpine climbing; 1 caught, 1 killed

A group of four climbers left Arthurs Pass for an ascent of Mt Rolleston on the 17th of December. They climbed to the summit via the Otira Valley, reaching the top by mid-morning. After some discussion, they decided to descend the Bealey Valley. This valley drains the Goldney Glacier. The climbers descended the normal route from the summit, then followed the Goldney Ridge to the point where it joins the Otira Slide. Dropping off the ridge to the south, they headed into the top the Goldney Glacier.

for 200m and then disappeared out of sight. The three remaining climbers ran down the slope to see where their friend had gone. They moved to a point where they could identify that their friend had been swept over a bluff. Concerned for his safety, the climbers cautiously traversed back to the left, by-passing the steep terrain and began searching at the base of the bluffs. There was no trace of the now missing climber. One person left to raise the alarm while the remaining two continued searching.

It was around mid-day when the group began their descent down the glacier. The weather was fine and the snow had been sun-softened, up to about 10cm in depth with firm snow underneath. The climbers opted to â&#x20AC;&#x153;bum slideâ&#x20AC;? down the snow. This involved sliding for a distance, then getting up and walking to the left. They repeated this process several times in order to avoid steep bluffs directly below them. The group became spread out down the slope. At one point, the more experienced climber who was higher up the slope called out to the other three further down the slope to stop. He was concerned that they were veering too much toward the bluffed terrain. One of the climbers was sliding at the time and may not have heard the call. He slid past the other two, going quite fast, appearing to have lost control. There was also a large amount of snow sliding with him. He continued to slide

A rescue team arrived on the site later that afternoon and began searching, looking for surface clues and using avalanche probes to check likely burial sites. This was called off due to increased avalanche hazard that afternoon and potential risk to rescuers. The search continued the following day without success. It was assumed that the climber had fallen to his death and had subsequently been buried by debris in a schrund at the base of the cliff. On the 6th of February 1995, the body of the climber was discovered by a group of friends. It was found at the base of a waterfall, which would have been a schrund at the time of the accident. Autopsy results indicated the likely cause of death was minor head injuries consistent with a fall, followed by burial in wet snow and subsequent suffocation. The head injuries would have caused unconsciousness before burial.

Source: COR 950354

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55 Barrier Face, Mt Barrier, Darran Mountains, Fiordland (24 June 1995) (Map 1) Alpine climbing; 1 caught, 1 killed

Two climbers set out to climb Cul de Sac, which is a steep ice climb, in Cirque Creek between Mount Crosscut and Mount Christina on the 22nd of June. The combination of the climb taking longer than expected and deteriorating weather meant the climbers were forced to spend two nights out on the mountain. On the third day, they made their way back toward Homer Hut. The route required them to traverse over Barrier Peak to Barrier Knob and on to Gertrude Saddle where they would drop down to Black Lake and into the lower Gertrude Valley back to the hut. On the 24th of June, while traversing the main ridge of Barrier Peak, the climbers dropped off the ridge and traversed the snowfield below Barrier Knob itself. The climbers were equipped with technical mountaineering gear but were not wearing avalanche transceivers nor were they carrying shovels or probes. At the time of the event, the snowpack was shallow by Fiordland standards. The weather during the preceding weeks had been predominately fine and cool. There had been several minor snowfalls during the previous ten days. Walking 100m apart, the climbers were about halfway across the slope when a slab avalanche started 100m above the first climber. The avalanche swept the first climber approximately 400m over a bluff into the Gertrude Valley below (Figure 4.40). The moving snow missed the second climber who watched as the avalanche disappeared over the edge of the bluff. He descended down to the cliff edge and established that the debris had fallen onto the terrain below the Black Lake Slabs. He could

also see that a second and much larger avalanche had released further round the slope, which significantly increased the amount of debris in the Black Lake area. The surviving climber descended to Gertrude Saddle where he hoped to find his companion. He carried out an initial search of the area for about 30 minutes but found no trace of his partner. He then continued on to the road end to raise the alarm. Works Civil Construction received a call at 5.00 pm that day stating that “an avalanche had been reported on the Barrier face and one person was missing, presumed buried.” A search team was dispatched by helicopter but the search was compromised by darkness and deteriorating weather. With the aid of the helicopter landing lights, the rescue team managed to view the crown wall and identify the perimeter of the debris. Weather conditions forced the searchers to abandon efforts until first light the next day. By the next morning 16cm of new snow had fallen. Helicopter access was restricted due to low cloud and it was difficult to assess the current avalanche hazard in the upper snowfield. The outline of the deposition could still be identified. The debris was on a 35° slope with numerous terrain traps and would have been almost impossible to probe. The avalanche would have traveled at high speed, having plunged more than 900m over cliff bands. It was unlikely the climber could have survived the accident given the combined size of the avalanches and the severity of the terrain. Initially the search was carried out by helicopter. Then four rescue dogs and their handlers covered

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approximately 80% of the deposition. However, the risk of further avalanches and the soft snow conditions underfoot made it too dangerous to expose searchers to the site for long periods. The weather forecast predicted light precipitation

expected until mid-morning then an increase to 6cm snowfall per hour from midday on. This meant the searchers had very little time in which they could safely work in the basin given the sensitivity of the snowpack. Due to the deteriorating

Figure 4.40:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Barrier Face Avalanche Site Diagram.

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Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

conditions, by 11.00 am the search was abandoned. No sign of the climber was found. By the morning of the 27th a large portion of the Barrier face had avalanched naturally. It was estimated that the site had been covered with an additional 10m of debris. The search area was again checked by helicopter but still with no sign of the missing climber. It became unrealistic to continue and the search was officially called off.

Works Civil Construction had noted some faceting in the snowpack on slopes above the Homer Tunnel two or three days before the event (Figure 4.41). They also experienced numerous avalanches resulting from avalanche control work several days after the accident. They concluded that a facet layer in the snowpack was a major contributor to this fatal avalanche. The following summer as the debris melted, the body of the victim was recovered near the base of the deposition area.

Figure 4.41: â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Barrier Face (Mt Belle Weather Station 15 June 1995) (Weir and Carran)

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Avalanche Information Type: Slab – surface, becoming airborne Aspect: SW Elevation: 1600m Incline: 35° Size: Size 2.5 Width: 30m Crown wall: 30-50cm Total length: 900m Source: Avalanche Report for NZMSC – Wayne Carran & Peter Weir Works Civil Construction report – Wayne Carran Southland Times, Avalanche Claims Tramper, 26 June 1995

56 Porter Col, Mt Cook National Park (28 March 1997) (Map 4) Alpine Climbing; 1 killed

On the 19th of March two climbers left Mt Cook village and climbed to Gardiner Hut where they spent the night. The following day they continued on to Empress Hut where they spent the rest of the week. On the 27th, the climbers ascended the Sheila Glacier and then the Sheila face of Mt Cook. They stayed the night just below the summit and about 2.00 am the following morning they descended from the high peak to Porter Col. At about 10.00 am, on a ledge below Porter Col, they stopped for a rest and to remove some of their gear. They heard a “loud noise” above them and saw an ice avalanche about the size of an apartment block heading towards them. Both climbers attempted to escape the avalanche by running. One was thrown to the ground by the air blast as the avalanche swept past. As this happened he heard his partner call out but by the

time he got to his feet there was no sign of his companion. The avalanche continued down Porter Col and stopped above the Empress Shelf. The survivor descended to the debris and began to search for his partner. He found a snow stake but after half an hour searching found no other signs and concluded his partner was likely dead and buried under the ice. He then returned to Empress Hut and raised the alarm. A helicopter and rescue staff was dispatched at approximately 2.00 pm from the village and a thorough visual search of the debris was conducted from the air (it was determined too hazardous to place rescuers on the ground). The helicopter then flew on to Empress Hut and picked up the surviving climber and returned to the village. On the following day (29th of March)

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another search was attempted but the existing hazard again precluded placing rescuers on the ground and with no sign of the victim the search was called off.

The body of the missing climber was not recovered.

Source: COR 98/0310

57 Pinnacle Ridge, Tongariro National Park (1 July 1997) (Map 8) Climbing course; 3 caught, 2 killed

The early season snowpack on Mt Ruapehu was exceptionally shallow. June weather patterns had consisted of long fine periods with cold temperatures (max. - 6.0oC at 2300m, 29th June 1997). There had been relatively few storms in the first two months of winter with only small accumulations of snow during the period. The only avalanche paths at threshold were above 2200m, although some isolated pockets of snow existed on southern aspects down to 1900m. On the 30th of June, an intense depression tracked southeast across the central North Island (Figure 4.42). The northerly air stream produced rain in the Central Plateau region. The winds shifted to the easterly quarter, producing heavy rain and snow showers at higher elevations. With a final wind shift to the southeast, the freezing level dropped to approximately 1800m. The accident occurred on the second day of the storm and at the peak of the storm’s intensity. Tongariro National Park receives most precipitation from the west but moderate volumes can be generated from the east, although this is far less common. On the 1st of July the ski area was closed and the

area’s snow safety programme was not operational. However, the Department of Conservation was preparing an avalanche forecast as part of their track report. On the 29th of June, 20 novice mountaineers and five instructors from the Auckland University Rock and Alpine Club ascended the lower slopes of Mt Ruapehu to the New Zealand Alpine Club’s hut at Delta Corner. They were all part of the club’s “Snow School” for beginners. The weather was fine although some high cloud developed during the day. On day two of the course, participants learnt basic mountaineering skills and explored some of the upper slopes of the mountain using their new skills. On the morning of the accident the group were hut bound due to the unpleasant conditions outside. One of the instructors later reported, “Winds were from the south, gusty and sometimes quite strong, making it hard to walk out of doors. The visibility was variable, down to 50m at times. The doorway of the hut drifted in a few times, from the new or wind blown snow.” The instructors gave talks on avalanches, weather and first aid.

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Figure 4.42:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Weather Map: 1 July 1997

By mid-afternoon the weather had eased so the course broke into smaller groups and ventured out for some more training. Two instructors and four trainees headed off toward Pinnacle Ridge. On the approach walk, three of the trainees opted to return to the hut because they were experiencing problems with their glasses fogging up. The remaining three people traversed through Te Heu Heu Valley, then began their ascent up toward Keyhole Gully at 3.30 pm, in what was described as good visibility with little wind and no snow falling. The three climbers ascended to the top of Central Pinnacle, then traversed around to the north side of the peak, before dropping down to the col, referred to as

the Keyhole. The climbers rested for a short time, enjoying good views and not feeling at all threatened by the weather. From the survivorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s statement, it is unclear whether conditions had eased considerably or if the gullies and spurs of the Pinnacle Ridge were providing shelter to the climbers. There were two options for the descent. After some discussion they opted to descend down the face to the SW, avoiding the more technical ridge route, as it would be too difficult for the least experienced climber (Figure 4.43). As they left the col, one of the instructors went 20m ahead to investigate the route. Signalling to the others that the route was OK, they all began the descent down the

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Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

gully in deep powder snow. The trainee got into difficulty in the deep snow and began to slide. The instructor beside him tried to assist. It was at this point that the first avalanche was triggered. They were

standing immediately below the crown wall when it propagated. The slab area was relatively small but was sufficient to sweep all three climbers off their feet and down over a small cliff band. It is assumed

Figure 4.43:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Pinnacle Ridge Avalanche Site Diagram. Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 128


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that the force of impact from the climbers and the debris from the first avalanche triggered two isolated pockets of snow below the cliff band. The two climbers that were together were carried down the true left of the slide path. Part way down the track the trainee was swept clear of the avalanche. The second climber was still engulfed in the debris and was carried further down into a narrow and confined gully. He was caught on a snow bench and subsequently buried. The third climber was carried down the true right of the slide path, through broken and rocky terrain and came to rest in a hollow at the base of the slope. In both cases, each climber was caught in a well-defined terrain trap (Figures 4.43, 4.44). The climbers were not equipped with avalanche transceivers, probes or shovels. The climber swept clear of the avalanche

suffered a broken ankle during the fall. He began to search for his friends. He searched for 10-20 minutes but having lost a glove and both his ice tools decided that the best thing he could do for them – and to stay alive himself – was to return to the hut and raise the alarm. He became disorientated on the climb back to the hut, which meant the emergency call was not made until 8.00 pm. A search team was not dispatched to the mountain that night because of very strong winds. By morning, search efforts progressed slowly due to the survivor’s lack of local knowledge and inability to locate the avalanche site. The first body was found in the gully, true left of the slide path, by spot probing. The climber was found face down, fully clothed and with his pack on, under 1.5m of debris. Probe line searches continued until dark. Some

Figure 4.44:  Victim recovery, Pinnacle Ridge Avalanche Site 1 July 1997 (Photo: Mark Sedon). Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 129


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa - New Zealand 

of the rescue team remained high on the mountain overnight to resume searching in the morning. The second body was found early on the second day after the accident. Dogs were used and the body was recovered underneath 2m of debris in an area that had been probed extensively the day before. The cause of death of both victims was asphyxia.

from a weakness within the storm snow. The subsequent releases ran on a facet layer deeper in the snowpack (Figure 4.45). The combination of steep terrain in the start zone, relatively thin snow cover, rocky broken ground in the track and a series of terrain traps at the base of the slope, contributed to the severity of this event.

The initial avalanche released as a soft slab over an old rain crust, most likely resulting

Figure 4.45:  Profile: Tongariro 4 July 1997 (MacQueen and Brockbank)

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Source: Accident report compiled by Will MacQueen, Ruapehu Alpine Lifts for NZMSC Coroner’s Report (no number) (Coulter) Coroner’s Report (no number) (Court)

58 Mt Hutt Ski Area (25 August 1997) (Map 6) Out of area skiing; 1 killed

On the 25th of August a depression centred south west of Fiordland was connected to a front in the central Tasman Sea (Figure 4.46). At Mt Hutt, the freezing level was approximately 1600m in the morning, rising to 1900m in the afternoon. The weather gradually deteriorated during the day, with winds

from the northwest increasing in strength from moderate to strong at ridge-top. A French skier visiting the mountain for the first time travelled by bus from his accommodation in Methven to the Mt Hutt Ski Area. He told the bus driver and lodge staff that he intended to ski off piste.

Figure 4.46:  Weather Map: 25 August 1997. Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 131


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

About 4.30 pm, when the skier failed to appear for the return journey back down the mountain, the bus driver reported him as missing. The Mt Hutt Ski Patrol conducted a sweep of the mountain paying special attention to any tracks outside the area boundaries. However, no evidence of the skier could be found. A phone search of local bars and restaurants also failed to locate any sign of the missing skier so the patrol returned to the top of the mountain to conduct a more thorough search of off piste areas. By this stage the wind was estimated to be blowing 50 knots at ridge top, a significant amount of snow was being transported and some small avalanches were observed. Search efforts were hampered since the skier was alone and no one appeared to know of his intended route. Again, no trace of the missing skier could be found. On the 26th of August, formal SAR efforts to locate the missing skier began early but strong northwest winds, snow and low cloud hampered the use of helicopters. However, an improvement in the weather through the middle of the day allowed a pass over the South Face valley. In the lower gully below the face on a large area of avalanche debris a pair of ski poles were spotted from the air. The avalanche site was well below the posted ski area boundary with the start zones lying in the rocky ribs at 1600m elevation (Figure 4.47). Because of a continuing avalanche hazard, it was decided to lower a ski patroller onto the debris by helicopter winch to check the ski poles were not attached to someone beneath the snow, and conduct an initial

search for other clues. The search was conducted with ski patrol staff positioned to respond if required, but no other clues could be found. The waterfall hole at the bottom of the main gully was also checked but nothing was observed inside. The ski poles were later identified as belonging to the missing skier. The following day, strong winds and high avalanche hazard prevented rescuers from accessing the avalanche site. Conditions eased on the 28th of August and searchers, including two dog teams, were flown onto the debris in the main gully below the South Face. Although stability in the upper section of the gully was considered good, a decision was made to limit the exposure of the searchers lower down. This was because there were no escape routes from the avalanche track and the runout into the waterfall hole below. No other sign of the missing skier was found on that day. The next day two ski patrollers probed the area from Montyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Ridge into the primary search area above the waterfall hole. As no sign of the missing skier was found and the occurrence of loose snow avalanches continued, the decision was made by the Methven Police to suspend rescue efforts pending the discovery of further clues. The body of the missing skier was eventually recovered three months later in the vicinity of the ski poles when snowmelt released it from the avalanche debris.

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Figure 4.47:â&#x20AC;&#x201A; Mt Hutt Avalanche Site Diagram.

Source: Internal Accident Report, Bill Atkinson, Mt Hutt Ski Area, nzski.com, 1997 The Crystal Ball, Issue Number 5, August 1997, NZMSC, page 18 Bill Atkinson (personal communication)

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References Anderson, Harold J, 1994, Men of the Milford Road, Craig Printing, Invercargill Atkins, D., and K. Williams, 2000, 50 years of avalanche deaths in the United States: Proc. Int. Snow Science Workshop, Big Sky Montana, p. 16-20. Atkinson, Bill, 1997, Mt Hutt Internal Report on the Avalanche Incident, 25 August 1997, Nzski.com Bogie, D. 1991. Report of the Tukino ski Field Avalanche Accident. NZMSC, Wellington Breese, E.D., B. B. Fitzharris, J. R. Barringer, P. W. Sutton, G. R. McGreggor, I. F. Owens, T. D. Prowse, K. Lefever, P. R. Dingwall, December 1986, A History of Snow Avalanches in New Zealand, Avalanche Report Number 5, NZMSC, Wellington Carran, W. and P. Weir. 1995. Barrier Face Avalanche Report. NZMSC, Wellington Doesken, N. J., and A. Judson, 1996, The snow booklet. A guide to the science, climatology and measurement of snow in the United States, Colorado Climate Centre, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Colorado State University, p.87 Federated Mountain Clubs, Bulletin, Numbers: 15, 17, 19, 23, 28, 42, 44, 47, 49, 54, 64, 66, 81, 129 Frutiger, H., 1977, Avalanche Damage and Avalanche Protection in Switzerland, World Data Center for Glaciology GD-1, Boulder, Colorado, p. 17-32. Grayland, E. C., 1957, New Zealand Disasters, A. H. and A. W. Reed, Wellington Hobbs, C., 1991, The Ohau Ski Area Avalanche, 10 August 1991, NZMSC, Wellington Höller, P., 1997, Avalanche control and avalanche research in Austria since World War II: The Avalanche Review, v. 16, p. 6. Ikeda, S., T. Maehara, R. Nitta, and D. Enright, 2000, A Study of 4 avalanche accidents in Japan during ‘99-’00 season. Proc. Int. Snow Sci. Workshop, Big Sky, Montana, p. 21-27. Irwin, D., and W. MacQueen, 1999, Report on Avalanche Incidents and Accidents 1981 - 1998, NZMSC, Wellington Jamieson, B., and T. Geldsetzer, 1996, Avalanche Accidents in Canada, Volume 4 1984-1996, Canadian Avalanche Association, Revelstoke, BC. Jarry, F., and F. Sivardière, 2000, Characteristics of fatal avalanche accidents in France 1989-1999: Proc Int. Snow Science Workshop, Big Sky Montana, p. 8-15. Kristensen, K., 1998, A Survey of Avalanche Accidents in Norway: Publikasjon Norges Geotekniske Institutt 203, p. 155-159. Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 134


References: Accounts of Avalanche Accidents

LaChapelle, E. R., 1979, An Assessment of Avalanche Problems in New Zealand, NZMSC Avalanche Committee Report No. 2, NZMSC, Wellington Lefever, K., 1986, New Zealand Avalanche and Snow Research Bibliography, Avalanche Report No. 10, NZMSC, Wellington Lied, K., 1988 The avalanche accident at Vassdalen, Norway, 5 March 1986. Cold regions Science and Technology v.15, 137-50. MacQueen, W. 1997. Accident Report, Pinnacles Avalanche. NZMSC, Wellington McClung, D. and P. Schaerer, 1993, The Avalanche Handbook, The Mountaineers, Seattle, Washington Meister, R., 2001, Avalanches: warning, rescue and prevention: Avalanche News, v. 62, p. 44-37. Moore, A., 1990, The Mt Olympus Avalanche Accident, 11 August 1990, NZMSC, Wellington Morgan, D., ed., 1997 The Crystal Ball, Newsletter of the NZMSC Snow and Avalanche Committee, Issue No. 5, August 1997, Wellington New Zealand Alpine Journal, Numbers 10, 12, 14, 16, 21, 28, New Zealand Alpine Club The New Zealand Ski Year Yearbook 1976, Volume 6, Number 21, New Zealand Ski Association Owens, I. F., Morgan, D. N., and Hobbs, C. B., 1992, Report following the Broken River Ski Area Avalanche Accident 10 August 1992, NZMSC for the Department of Conservation Owens, I. F., 1995, Comments on Meteorological and Snow Conditions Associated with the Porter Heights Avalanche Fatality of 19 June 1994, The Crystal Ball, Issue No 3, July 1995, NZMSC Schweizer, J., and P. M. B. Fรถhn, 1996, Avalanche forecasting - an expert systems approach: Journ. Glaciology, v. 42, p. 318-332. Smith, H. W., 1947, Avalanches, New Zealand Engineering, Vol. 2. No. 5 (May 10) pp 491-496 Vance, W., 1965, High Endeavour, the Story of the Mackenzie Country, W. Vance, Timaru.

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Glossary Aspect – The compass direction of a slope looking straight down the fall line. Avalanche Cycle – A period of avalanches associated with a storm or specific weather period. For a storm, the cycle typically starts during a storm and ends a few days after the weather clears. Backcountry – Terrain that requires some preparation and effort to reach and may involve an extended walk or aircraft access. Bed Surface – The surface on which the avalanche runs. Not to be confused with failure plane (refer failure plane). Bridging (supporting) – A term used to describe a strong, supportive layer within the snowpack overlaying a weak, potentially unstable layer. Sometimes referred to as the bridging strength of a layer within the snowpack. Cornice – An overhanging build up of snow, usually on the lee side of ridges. Moderate to strong winds often create a vortex on the lee side of ridge tops and deposit wind blown snow at the very top of a lee slope. Cornices generally form faster during periods of high humidity. Cross Loading - When wind blows across a slope, snow is picked up from windward terrain and deposited on the lee side of spurs and high ground. Crown Wall (crown fracture line) – The top fracture line of a slab avalanche. Danger Rating System – as used in the backcountry advisory service on: www. avalanche.net.nz Danger Level What Low

Avalanche Probability and Avalanche Trigger Why Natural avalanches very unlikely. Human triggered avalanches unlikely.

Recommended Action in the Backcountry What To Do Travel is generally safe. Normal caution advised.

Moderate Natural avalanches unlikely. Human Use caution in steeper terrain on triggered avalanches possible. certain aspects. High

Natural and Human triggered avalanches likely

Travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended.

Extreme Widespread natural or human Travel Travelininavalanche avalancheterrain terrainshould and confined to low triggered avalanches certain. be avoided should be avoided and confined to low angle terrain, well away from avalanche path runouts. Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 136


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Debris – The accumulation of snow carried down by the avalanche. The appearance of debris ranges from small tightly packed snowballs to large irregular shaped blocks. Deposition (deposition zone) – The area where the bulk of the snow carried down by the avalanche comes to rest. This area is also known as the runout zone. Depth Hoar – An advanced and generally larger form of faceted snow crystals (see facets). Depth hoar crystals are striated and in advanced stages usually form hollow shapes. This type of crystal can form at any level in the snowpack but is most commonly found at the base of a shallow snowpack after a period of cold clear weather. Event – Used to describe an avalanche occurrence where there is human involvement. Failure Plane – A weak snow layer associated with slab avalanche initiation and propagation. Facets (also called faceted crystals, squares or sometimes sugar snow) – In response to sufficiently strong temperature gradients within the snowpack, grains grow flat faces by a process known as kinetic growth, or more simply, faceting. Facets commonly form near the snow surface or where the snowpack is shallow during periods of cold, clear weather. Front Country – Front country is the more easily accessed terrain serviced by roads and well maintained tracks. Hazard – Avalanche hazard is a function of the interaction of people and/or facilities with avalanche phenomena (also see Danger Rating System). Ice Avalanche – Ice avalanches occur when large sections of ice break free from a glacier or other ice deposit and travel down-slope breaking up on the way. Melt Freeze (Layer/Crust) - A layer of snow that has been warmed until liquid water forms between the grains and then refrozen to form a relatively strong layer. Crusts sometimes form the bed surface to slab avalanches. Powder Snow - Light density new snow that has accumulated without significant wind effect (wind being a major factor in the formation of slab layers). Propagation - The spreading of a fracture or crack. The shear fractures that spread along weak layers and release slab avalanches tend to propagate further under thicker, harder slabs than thinner, softer slabs. Recreational Activity – Recreation is an activity undertaken for leisure and/or pleasure that may be on an intermittent basis and not for remuneration. Rime – A deposit of ice from super-cooled water droplets. Rime accumulates on the windward side of rocks, objects and falling crystals of snow. When a new snow crystal cannot be recognised because of rime, the grain is called graupel. Rounded Grains (rounds) – Under sufficiently low temperature gradients, branched

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and angular grains decompose into more rounded shapes called rounds. This dry snow process involves the sublimation of ice from convex parts of the grain into the hollows. Rounding also tends to build bonds between grains (sintering). Consequently, layers of rounded grains tend to be stronger than layers of faceted grains of the same density. Runout Zone – refer deposition. Rutschblock Test – A slope stability test where a skier or boarder progressively increases the load on a 1.5m by 2m isolated block of snow until a weak layer within the block fails. Settlement – The gradual compaction of snow layers under its own weight over time. This term is sometimes used incorrectly to describe a ‘whumph’ or propagating shear fracture. Size – Avalanche size is based on an estimate of the destructive potential of an avalanche as follows: Size Description 1 2 3 4 5

Relatively harmless to people. Could bury, injure or kill a person. Could bury a car, destroy a small building or break a few trees. Could destroy a railway carriage, large truck, several buildings or forest of up to 4 hectares. Largest snow avalanches known. Could destroy a village or forest of 40 hectares.

Typical Typical Typical Mass Path Impact (tonnes) Length (m) Pressure (kPa) <10 10 102 100

1 10

103 1,000

100

104 2,000

500

105 3,000 1,000

Source:  McClung & Schaerer (1993)

Shovel Shear Test – A test to identify the location of weak layers within the snow pack. Ski Pole Test – A simple field test to assess the relative resistance of different layers within the snowpack. Slab – One or more cohesive layers of snow that act as a unit. Sluff – A small avalanche usually made up of loose, near surface snow.

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Snow Stability Rating System Term

Definition

Very

The snowpack is stable.

Good

Very large triggers such as cornice falls or explosives produce only sluffing. Stability tests generally produce little or no result.

Good

The snowpack is mostly stable. Natural avalanches are not expected. Avalanches may be triggered by heavy loads in isolated terrain features. Stability tests generally produce moderate to hard results.

Fair

The snowpack stability is marginal. Natural avalanches can be expected in isolated terrain features. Avalanches may be triggered by light loads in areas with specific terrain features or certain snowpack characteristic. Stability tests generally produce easy to moderate results.

Poor

The snowpack is unstable. Natural avalanches can be expected in areas with specific terrain features or certain snowpack characteristics. Stability tests generally produce easy results.

Very Poor

The snowpack is very unstable. Natural avalanches can be expected on a widespread basis. Stability tests generally produce very easy to easy results.

Unknown Starting Zone – The area at the top of an avalanche path where an avalanche is most likely to be initiated (often established by observations over time). Stauchwall – The lower boundary wall of a slab avalanche, usually obliterated by the downward movement of the avalanche mass (only the crown and flank walls remain visible after the avalanche has passed). Stepped Down – A slab avalanche is said to ‘step down’ if the motion of the initial slab causes lower layers to release, resulting in a second bed surface deeper in the snowpack. A step in the bed surface is usually visible. Storm Snow – The snow that falls during a period of continuous or almost continuous snowfall. Many snow operations consider a storm to be over after a day with less than 1cm of new snow. Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 139


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

Sun Crust – The term sun crust is often used to refer to a melt-freeze crust that is more noticeable on sunny slopes than shady slopes. However, the international definition is a thin transparent layer caused by partial melting and re-freezing of the surface layer. Water vapour from just below the surface deposits as ice on the bottom side of the sun crust. Surface Hoar – Crystals often shaped like feathers, spikes or wedges, that grow upward from the snow surface on cold, relatively clear nights when the air just above the snow surface is cooled to dew point (the winter equivalent of dew) and there is a slight air movement. These crystals can also form on shady slopes. Once buried, layers of surface hoar are slow to gain strength, sometimes persisting in the snowpack for long periods of time as potential failure planes for slab avalanches. Temperature Gradient – Temperature gradient is the change in temperature with depth, in the snowpack. A temperature gradient of 2oC per 10cm or greater is associated with a weakening of the snow grains known as faceting. Terrain Trap – A terrain feature that increases the consequence of getting caught in an avalanche. For example; gullies and crevasses increase the likelihood of a deep burial and cliffs increase the potential of traumatic injuries associated with the fall. Track – The slope or channel which snow moves down at a more or less uniform speed. Transceiver (beacon) – An electronic device worn by travellers in avalanche terrain. In transmit mode, the unit constantly transmits a radio signal, which is stronger at closer range. If someone with a transmitting unit is buried, the other members of the group can switch their transceivers into receive mode and follow a search pattern that locates the strongest signal. At that location probing and digging will then find the buried person. ‘Whumph’ – The sound of a fracture propagation along a weak layer within the snowpack. ‘Whumphs’ are an indication of localised instabilities and rapid settlement. In terrain that is steep enough to avalanche, such settlement often results in slab avalanches occurring. Wind Loading – Preferential deposition of wind transported snow in zones of lower wind speed. Wind Slab – One or more stiff layers of wind deposited snow. Wind slabs usually consist of snow crystals broken into smaller particles by the wind and packed together into a stiff cohesive slab.

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 140


List of Acronyms Used COR Coronial Record DOC Department of Conservation FMC Federated Mountain Clubs MWD Ministry of Works & Development NZMGA New Zealand Mountain Guides Association NZMSC New Zealand Mountain Safety Council SAR Search and Rescue

Snow Crystal Classification This book contains snow profiles that use symbols for snow crystals according to the international system of snow classification. Information regarding snow crystal classification can be found in the New Zealand Guidelines and Recording Standards for Weather, Snowpack, and Avalanche Observations (NZMSC 2000).

Recommended Avalanche Safety Books Daffern, Tony. 1993. Avalanche Safety For Skiers And Climbers, Rocky Mountain Books Calgary, Canada Fredston, J. & D. Fesler .1994. Snow Sense. A Guide to Evaluating Snow Avalanche Hazard. Alaska Mountain Safety Centre Inc, Anchorage Alaska. Jamieson, Bruce. 1997. Backcountry Avalanche Awareness. Canadian Avalanche Ass. Revelstoke, BC, Canada Jamieson, Bruce & McDonald, Jennie. 1999. Free Riding in Avalanche Terrain. Canadian Avalanche Association, Revelstoke, BC, Canada. La Chapelle, E.R. 1985. The ABC of Avalanche Safety, 2nd ed. The Mountaineers, Seattle, WA La Chapelle, E.R. 2001. Secrets of the Snow. Visual Clues to Avalanche and Ski Conditions. University of Washington Press, Seattle, WA. McClung, D. & P. Schaerer. 1993. The Avalanche Handbook, The Mountaineers, Seattle ,WA. NZMSC. 2000. New Zealand Guidelines and Recording Standards for Weather, Snowpack and Avalanche Observations. (Mountain Safety Manual No. 28). Weir, P. and Schreiber, S. Eds. Wellington Tremper, B. 2001. Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain. The Mountaineers, Seattle, WA. Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 141


Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

Note: The following accidents have been previously recorded as involving avalanches. Recent evidence has discounted avalanche as a cause of death. 1 Caroline Face, Mt Cook National Park (1 November 1963). Climbing, 2 killed (deceased: Goldsmith and Cousins). Although originally thought to have perished on an attempt on the Caroline Face, the bodies of these climbers were discovered in the summer 1999/2000 at the foot of the Hooker Glacier. 2 Mt Aspiring â&#x20AC;&#x201C; SW Ridge, Mt Aspiring National Park (18 January 1980). Climbing, 2 killed (deceased: Larkins and Wilson). Note: Not included are 10 deceased persons removed from plane wreckage in Blue Duck Creek (8 August 1989 in Mt Aspiring National Park). These fatalities have not been included since, although an avalanche related incident, the fatalities were likely not a result of the avalanche activity.

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 142


The Press 25/2/1914 p.10 Wilson, 1968

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 143

Otago Daily Times 17/8/1944 Asp.: ? The Press 17/8/1944 p.4

9 White Col, Arthurs Pass 15 Aug 1944 Climbing 3 1 Deceased: B Banfield (male 23) National Park (Fig. 1.1)

Asp.: N

Asp.: ?

NZ Alpine Journal,10,1943 p.69-72

Deceased: D Hulse (male), Smith, 1947 T Smith (male)2 killed and 3 Anderson, 1975 injured in large avalanche.

Asp.: E

Asp.: E

Asp.: ?

Asp.: ?

Asp.: ?

Asp.: ?

Map Ref. & Aspect

27 Aug 1942 Skiing 4 1 Deceased: H Susmann (male) 8 Temple Basin, Arthurs Pass National Park (Map 7)

4 May 1937 Tunnel 6 2 7 Homer Tunnel, Milford Road (Map 1) Workers

Tunnel 7 1 Deceased: P Overton (male) Worker

Smith, 1947 Anderson, 1975

Deceased: S King, D Thomson (male 32), J.Richmond (male 26) Guides and client caught in large avalanche on the Linda Glacier.

4 Linda Glacier, Mt 22 Feb 1914 Climbing 3 3 Cook National Park (Map 4)

The Press 4/8/1891 p.6 Mt Ida Cronicle

6 Homer Tunnel, Milford 6 July 1936 Road (Map 1)

Deceased: Beer (male 20), Blanchard (male 20), Meikle (male 18)

3 Mt Nobbler, 1 Aug 1891 Rescue 3 3 Kakanui Range (Fig .1.1) Party

Vance, 1965 Grave site at Burkes Pass

NZ Alpine Journal, 5, 1934 p.444 - 446

Deceased: D Morrison (male), J W Smith (male 19)

2 Avalanche Creek, 24 Jul 1879 Mustering 2 2 Rollesby Range (Map 3)

Grayland 1957 The Press 25/8/1863 p.2

5 Avalanche Peak, Arthurs 30 July 1933 Climbing 17 1 Deceased: (male 23) Pass National Park (Map 7)

Avalanche on mining camp 10 miles from the Blackball Hotel (9 survivors, 50 in party)

No. No. Details Information Source caught killed

1 Serpentine Gully 14 Aug 1863 Mining 41 41 near Dunstan (Fig.1.1)

Location Date Activity

Appendix Avalanche Fatality Summary

Appendix


NZ Alpine Journal,16,1955 p.233 NZ Alpine Journal,16,1955 p.543 FMC Bulletin 15, January 1963 p.4

11 Lochaber Station, 24 July 1954 Mustering 1 1 Deceased: (male) Hewson River (Map 3)

12 Dobson Valley, Ben 4 Aug 1955 Hunting 1 1 Deceased: (male) Ohau Range (Map 3)

13 Pioneer Pass, Haast 2 Jan 1961 Climbing 2 2 Glacier (Map 4)

Those involved: P Gin, J Bushell, D Millar, I. Carmichael, page 2 M Anderson (one survivor). Very large ice avalanche from the glacier below Fastness.

19 Mt Rainbow, Mt 23 Dec 1969 Tramping 4 4 Aspiring National Park (Map 2)

Asp.: ?

Asp.: S

FMC Bulletin 42, June 1972 Asp.: S

Deceased: R Tilly (male 20) Press 4/8/1969 p.1 Climbers roped together swept 100m down and buried.

NZ Alpine Journal, 21,1966 Asp.: N p.334 - 336

17 Mt Rolleston, Arthurs 23 June 1966 Rescue Party 8 1 Deceased: (male) Pass National Park (Map 7)

18 Avalanche Peak, Arthurs 2 Aug 1969 Climbing 4 1 Pass National Park (Map 7)

FMC Bulletin 23, November 1965 p.2,3

16 Mt Outram, Upper 29 Dec 1964 Climbing 2 2 Deceased: D Forest, M Keating Rangitata (Map 5)

Asp.: E

FMC Bulletin 17, September 1963 p.8

15 Mt Annette, Mt Cook 21 Oct 1962 Climbing 1 1 Deceased: H Frame (male) National Park (Map 3)

Asp.: ?

Otago Daily Times 25/9/1961 The Press 25/9/1961

Asp.: SE

Asp.:SW

Asp.: ?

Asp.: ?

Map Ref. & Aspect

14 Mt Olympus, 23 Sept 1961 Skiing 3 1 Deceased: H Weiringa (male) Craigieburn Rangeâ&#x20AC;&#x2030;(Map 6)

Deceased: S Huston (male), P Branford (male)

NZ Alpine Journal,14,1952 p.378, 379

No. No. Details Information Source caught killed

10 Mt Rubicon, 22 July 1950 Climbing 4 3 Deceased: (male) Torlesse Range (Map 6)

Location Date Activity

Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 144


FMC Bulletin 49, Sept 1975 Asp.: ? p.11

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 145

Deceased: D F Fitzgerald (male) Avalanched while walking to ski area Deceased: L Johnstone (female) Avalanched while on the Page Hut track

26 Mt Hutt (Map 6) 25 Aug 1975 Ski Field 2 1 Access

3 1 27 Temple Basin, Arthurs Pass 28 Aug 1975 Skiing National Park (Map 7)

2 Jan 1979 Climbing 2 2 Deceased: J Williams (male 32), 28 Mt Cook (Linda K Margrain (male 21) Glacier), Mt Cook National Park (Map 4) ice avalanche

FMC Bulletin 54, August Asp.:NE 1977 p.5 New Zealand Alpine Journal, 28, 1975 p.135

Deceased: B Cottew (male), P Hunnibell (male), G Boyd (male), P Gazley (male) Avalanched while digging snow caves on NZ Air Force climbing course.

25 Ball Pass, Mt Cook 23 July 1975 Climbing 27 4 National Park (Map 4) Course

FMC Bulletin 64, November 1980 p.20 COR 79/536 (Margrain) COR 79/530 (Williams)

Asp.: N

FMC Bulletin 54, Asp.:NW August 1977, p.6,7 NZ Ski Year Book 1976 pp37

Asp.: N

FMC Bulletin 54, Asp.: S August 1977 p.6; New Zealand Alpine Journal, 28, 1975 p.8

24 La Perouse, Mt Cook 1 June 1975 Climbing 3 3 Deceased: J Flutsch (male), National Park (Map 4) A Jones (male), J Roger (male)

FMC Bulletin 54, August 1977 p.6 The Press 26/8/75

FMC Bulletin 47, July 1974 Asp.: E p.9,10

23 Haast Hut, Mt Cook 21 Nov 1973 Climbing 2 1 Deceased: M Lindsay (male) National Park (Map 4)

Deceased: W Richards (male), D Moen (male)

22 Tasman Saddle, Mt Cook 16 Sept 1973 Climbing 2 2 National Park (Map 5)

Asp.: E

FMC Bulletin 44, March 1973 p.3

FMC Bulletin 42, June 1972 Asp.: SE p.4

Map Ref. & Aspect

21 Haast Ridge, Mt Cook 13 Dec 1971 Climbing 1 1 Deceased: S. J. Plaister National Park (Map 4) course

Deceased: M Logan (male) ice avalanche

No. No. Details Information Source caught killed

20 Governor Col, Mt Cook 28 Jan 1971 Climbing 4 1 National Park (Map 4)

Location Date Activity

Appendix


Deceased: G Scott (male), FMC Bulletin 73, C Smith (male) March 1983 p.6 Avalanche carried the deceased COR 81/1663 (Smith) approximately 500 meters and COR 81/1662 buried both climbers. Deceased:â&#x20AC;&#x2030;G McCallum (male 53) Alpine Club instruction course, deceased buried by relatively small avalanche in terrain trap. Deceased: B Cook (male), H. Ranford (female) Snow Cavers on Knoll Ridge buried when avalanche collapsed snow caves.

4 July 1981 Climbing 2 2 31 Mt Alma, Two Thumb Range (Map 5) (Recreation)

32 Third Waterfall, 11 July 1981 Climbing 3 1 Mt Ruapehu, Tongariro Course National Park (Map 8) (Training)

33 Knoll Ridge, Mt Ruapehu, 5 Sept 1981 Climbing 7 2 Tongariro National Course Park (Map 8) (Training)

34 McKinnon Pass (Milford 28 Nov 1982 Rescue 1 1 Deceased: S Taylor (male 22) Track), Fiordland National Party (Work) DOC worker engulfed and Park (Map 1) buried by large avalanche on Milford Track

FMC Bulletin 66, June 1981, p.14,15 COR 80/1180 (Taylor)

Deceased: R Crowley (male 35), F Taylor (male 41) ice avalanche

30 East Face, Mt Cook, 5 April 1980 Climbing 3 2 Mt Cook National Park (Map 4)

T 20 314130 Asp.: E

T 20 312142 Asp.:NW

I 36 265367 Asp.: NE

Asp.: E

Asp.: W

Map Ref. & Aspect

FMC Bulletin 81, D 41 March 1985 p.17 963875 Otago Daily Times 24/11/82 Asp.: NE The Press 29/11/82 COR 83/751

FMC Bulletin 73, March 1983 page 7,8 COR 81/1508 (Cook) COR 81/1509 (Ranford) The Press 7/9/1981

FMC Bulletin 73, March 1983 p.6,7 COR 81/1476 The Press 13/7/81

Otago Daily Times 8/1/1980 COR 80/680 (Pechey) COR 80/683 (Steane)

No. No. Details Information Source caught killed

29 Rob Roy, Mt Aspiring 6 Jan 1980 Climbing 2 2 Deceased: Pechey (male), National Park (Map 2) Steane (male)

Location Date Activity

Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 146


Deceased: R Andrew (male 52) Engulfed by avalanche while clearing avalanche debris from the Milford Road.Christchurch

Deceased: R Ngaira (male) COR 84/1007 Climber fell down a steep chute, initiating several avalanches. Climber later found in schrund at base of cliffs below chute. Deceased: C Ramsay (female 22) COR 84/1587 Climber slipped and fell, initiating an avalanche that engulfed her. Deceased:â&#x20AC;&#x2030;T Marsh (male approx 24) FMC Bulletin 101, Engulfed in avalanche while ski March 1990 p.28,29 touring, swept over cliff and into COR 88/1011 shrund.

3 1 36 Milford Road, Fiordland 23 Sept 1983 Road National Park (Map 1) Clearing (Work)

1 1 37 Mt Rolleston, Arthurs Pass 25 Jan 1984 Climbing National Park (Map 7) (Recreation)

38 Low Peak, Mt Rolleston, 28 Oct 1984 Climbing 5 1 Arthurs Pass National (Recreation) Park (Map 7)

39 Murchison Glacier, 10 Sept 1987 Ski Tour 1 1 Mt Cook National Park (Recreation) (Map 5)

The Press 24/9/83 The Press 29/10/83 COR 84/362

Deceased: R Davis (male), COR 84/570 (Davis) C Hamilton (male) The two climbers disappeared in a crevassed area where recent large avalanches had occurred. Remaining equipment and tracks indicated likely avalanche involvement.

No. No. Details Information Source caught killed

35 Linda Face, Mt Graham, 20 Aug 1983 Climbing 2 2 Mt Cook National Park (Recreation) (Map 4)

Location Date Activity

I 35 004418 Asp.: SW

K 33 890093 Asp.: E

K 33 885095 Asp.: E

D 40 136927 Asp.: W

H 36 798330 Asp.: SE

Map Ref. & Aspect

Appendix

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 147


Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 148

2 1 45 Mt Olympus, Craigieburn 11 Aug 1990 Skiing Range region (Map 6) (Recreation)

Deceased: C. Collister (male 35) COR 90/1197 Engulfed and buried by an avalanche while descending from the ski area.

K 34 968782 Asp.: S

FMC Bulletin 110, I 35 June 1992 p.26,27 148468 COR 90/348 Asp.: NE Report of Avalanche Involvement (NZMSC files)

H 36 783294 Asp.: NW

44 Mt Dâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Archiac, Mt 2 Sept 1989 Climbing 2 1 Deceased: M Sinclair (male 32) Cook National Park, (Recreation) Engulfed by small avalanche, swept Two Thumbs Range down 30 meters and buried (Map 5) in crevasse.

Deceased: T Bissell (male 43) COR 89/767 Loose snow debris knocked a climber off his feet at the base of the couloir and a rock hit his head.

42 North West Couloir, 11 Jan 1989 Climbing 2 1 Mt Cook, Mt Cook (Recreation) National Park (Map 4)

H 36 805287 Asp.: SE

FMC Bulletin 108, H 37 December 1991 p.28 715067 COR 89/1153 (McNulty) Asp.: SE Report of Avalanche Involvement (NZMSC files)

Deceased: P Richards (male) COR 89/402 Body of deceased found in avalanche debris below the Caroline Face.

41 Caroline Face, Mt Cook, 24 Nov 1988 Climbing 1 1 Mt Cook National Park (Recreation) (Map 4)

H36 804313 Asp.: E

Map Ref. & Aspect

43 Freds Stream, Ben Ohau 16 July 1989 Heli Skiing 1 1 Deceased: D McNulty (male 36) Range (Map 3) (Work) Ski guide engulfed and buried by hard slab avalanche.

Deceased: D Tarrent (male), COR 88/545 R Harvey (male), I Watts (male 27) Climbers missing and buried by ice avalanches on the lower slopes of possibly into a crevasse at the foot of the Ridge.

No. No. Details Information Source caught killed

40 Zurbriggen Ridge, 17 Jan 1988 Climbing 3 3 Mt Cook, Mt Cook (Recreation) National Park (Map 4)

Location Date Activity

Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealandâ&#x20AC;&#x201A;


(Transceivers used? No)

COR 91/639

Deceased: M Watson (male) Repeated searches failed to find Watson, who was presumed buried by extensive avalanches observed in the area. (Transceivers used? No) Deceased: D Emery (female 37), A Munro (male 45) Size 3 avalanche caught 9 people digging a snow profile, resulting in 3 partial burials, 5 full burials, and 2 fatalities. (Transceivers used? No)

Deceased: D Crone (male 26) NZMSC Accident Report Size 3.5 avalanche occurred on the COR 92/000404 ski area during avalanche control resulted in 1 partial burial, 2 full burials, and 1 fatality. Ski lifts and buildings were damaged and equipment lost.

1 1 47 County stream, Waitaha, 28 May 1991 Mountain Hokitika (Map 5) walking (Recreation)

48 Tukino, Tongariro 22 July 1991 Snow Profiles 9 2 National Park (Map 8) (Training)

49 Ohau Ski Area 10 Aug 1991 Snow Control 3 1 (Map 3) (Work)

COR 92/168 (Emery) COR 92/178 (Munro) The Press 23/7/91

Alistar Pearce Department of Conservation, Te Anau

No. No. Details Information Source caught killed

46 Dore Pass, Milford Track, 18 May 1991 Tramping 1 1 Deceased: E Schutten (male) Fiordland National Park (Map 1)

Location Date Activity

H 38 523607 Asp.: S

T 20 349109 Asp.: E

Asp.: ?

Asp.: ?

Map Ref. & Aspect

Appendix

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 149


(Transceivers used? Yes and No)

Deceased: N. Ryde (male 60) NZMSC Accident Report A large avalanche (approx 1km wide) COR 93/0245 swept down from the upper part of the field and partially buried 2 people, fully buried 1 person and damaged vehicles, buildings and ski lifts. The debris was 20 meters deep. Victim was freeing rope tow from new snow. (Transceivers used? No) Deceased: A Keeling (male 23) An avalanche engulfed and rolled a snow groomer. The driver was fully buried and the groomer destroyed. An earthquake at the time of the avalanche may have caused that and other avalanche occurrences in the region.

51 Broken River, Craigieburn 10 Aug 1992 Snow Sport 6 1 Range (Map 6) Area Operation (Work)

52 Porters Heights, 19 June 1994 Grooming 1 1 Craigieburn Range (Work) (Map 6)

Owens, in Crystal Ball # 3 1995 COR 93/0245

Deceased: A Tibben, N Pennefather COR 92/000823 (Tibben) (males 20-25) COR 92/000820 (Penn.) An avalanche engulfed 3 roped climbers who were ‘bumsliding’ down the avalanche path. The avalanche resulted in 2 full burials (and 2 fatalities). (Transceivers used? No)

No. No. Details Information Source caught killed

50 Freshfield Glacier, 26 Dec 1991 Climbing 3 2 Mt Cook National Park (Recreation) (Map 4)

Location Date Activity

K 35 986703 Asp.: S

K 34 034856 Asp.: E

H 36 833327 Asp.: E

Map Ref. & Aspect

Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 150


(Transceivers used? No)

Deceased: S. Bly (male 29) COR 95/0354 While â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;bumslidingâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; down the Goldney Glacier, the deceased was caught by an avalanche from above and carried over a bluff. Debris and schrunds were searched, but the deceased was not found until some time later. (Transceivers used? Unknown) Deceased: D Meecham (male 24) Climber caught by small avalanche and swept over bluff into Gertrude Valley. (Transceivers used? No)

Deceased: S Robinson (male) COR 980310 (Robinson) While stopped to rest below Porter Col, a large avalanche engulfed 2 climbers. One climber escaped while the other was not found.

54 Mt Rolleston, Arthurs 17 Dec 1994 Climbing 4 1 Pass National Park (Recreation) (Map 7)

24 June 1995 Climbing 1 1 55 Barrier Face, Upper Hollyford Valley, Darran (Recreation) Mountains (Map 1)

56 Porter Col, Mt Cook, 28 Mar 1997 Climbing 2 1 Mt Cook National Park (Recreation) (Map 4)

K 33 894095 Asp.: E

H 36 775223 Asp.: E

Map Ref. & Aspect

H 36 793295 Asp.: W

1995 Avalanche Accident D 40 & Damage Summary. 164945 Report of Avalanche Asp.: SW Involvement (NZMSC files). Southland Times 26/6/95.

Deceased: L Travell (female) FMC Bulletin 129, The deceased (an English tourist) 1997 p.29 was found in debris deposited by an COR 94/0992 avalanche down the Stewart Stream gully. It was reported as a size 5 natural release. (Transceivers used? No)

No. No. Details Information Source caught killed

53 Stewart Stream, Mt Cook 17 Sept 1994 Tramping 1 1 National Park (Recreation) (Map 4)

Location Date Activity

Appendix

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 151


(Transceivers used? No)

Deceased: C. Herold (male, 45) Out of bounds skier caught and buried. Despite 4-day search with dogs, body not found until November. (Transceivers used? No)

58 Mt Hutt Ski Area 25 Aug 1997 Out of 1 1 (out of area) The area South Face (Map 6) Skiing (Recreation)

Mt Hutt internal report K 35 complied by B. Atkinson 908450 Crystal Ball 1997 (NZMSC) Asp.: S

COR (no number) (Coulter) T 20 COR (no number) (Court) 316138 Crystal Ball 1997 (NZMSC) Asp.: SW

Map Ref. & Aspect

Note: While every effort has been made to present information in an objective manner, the names of those deceased have been

Map Reference: Map Series 260 Topographical 1:50,000 with 6 figure grid references

Key: The abbreviation ‘COR’ refers to Coronial Record. The serial number of the record follows with the name of the deceased’s record in parentheses.

Deceased: S. Court (male 20); H. Coulter (male 21) 2 climbers were caught and buried in an avalanche below the Pinnacles on Mt Ruapehu. (Transceivers used? No)

No. No. Details Information Source caught killed

57 Pinnacle Ridge, Mt 1 July 1997 Climbing 3 2 Ruapehu, Tongariro course National Park (Map 8) (Training)

Location Date Activity

Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 152


About the Authors Dave Irwin has worked in the ski industry for many years in New Zealand, Canada, the USA, and Italy. His passion for telemark ski touring, coupled with work as a ski patroller and avalanche forecaster led to an enduring fascination with snow. He completed a MSc in Resource Management in 1996 and is now living in Christchurch where he teaches on the recreation and outdoor education programmes at CPIT. Over the years he has been involved in a variety of avalanche research projects including the annual NZMSC Avalanche Data Summaries, several avalanche atlases and related management strategies, and auditing avalanche management programmes. He is a member of the NZMSC Snow and Avalanche Committee. Will MacQueen is a professional mountain guide based in Wanaka, Southern Lakes. He ‘survived’ his teenage years as a mountaineer and went on to become an outdoor instructor and later an alpine guide. His passion for mountain safety came from a few personal ‘wake up calls’ and some avalanche rescue experiences. Ski patrolling, avalanche forecasting, teaching snow safety and guiding has taught him a healthy respect for our mountain playground. He now spreads his professional time between climbing and ski guiding and teaching on an outdoor leadership programme for Otago Polytechnic. In his free time you’ll find him out there ripping it up climbing, ski touring, kayaking and mountain biking. The thrill of dropping in for a few ‘freshies’ is about knowing what you are up for! Ian Owens is an Associate Professor in Geography at the University of Canterbury. He completed his PhD (on mountain geomorphology in the Canadian Rocky Mountains) from University of Toronto in 1973 and has been involved in avalanche research and education since the late 1970s with a particular focus on avalanche terrain mapping. Part of this involved instructing on Mountain Safety and Otago Polytechnic avalanche courses over a period of about 20 years from 1981 until his skiing ability declined below the threshold of being able to make a useful contribution. He has been and continues to be involved in glaciological studies with other members of the Geography Department at Canterbury University. He has been a member of the Mountain Safety Council’s Snow and Avalanche Committee since 1977 and convenor since 1994. Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 153


Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 154


Information may not be accurate, provided for historical purposes only 155

Profile for New Zealand Mountain Safety Council

Avalanche Accidents in Aoteroa New Zealand | 2002  

Each year in Aotearoa-New Zealand, snow and ice avalanches injure or kill people, equipment is lost or damaged, facilities are destroyed, an...

Avalanche Accidents in Aoteroa New Zealand | 2002  

Each year in Aotearoa-New Zealand, snow and ice avalanches injure or kill people, equipment is lost or damaged, facilities are destroyed, an...