Image: Three of the rescued with pilot Nat Every (left) and Barry Shepherd volunteer crewman (Philips Search and Rescue Trust)
The Taupo, New Zealand-based Greenlea Rescue Helicopter was involved in a challenging high altitude rescue on the night of 17 June. At about 18:30 hrs, the helicopter was dispatched by the police to assist with the search for and recovery of missing/injured hikers in the Tongariro National Park. The hikers were located on the western slopes of Mount Ngauruhoe.
It is believed that while descending the mountain, the group was caught out by fading light due to slower progress than anticipated. As the sun started to go down, the colder conditions contributed to turning the steep slopes of the mountain, which is nicknamed Mount Doom, into a solid sheet of ice. Although using crampons and ice axes, the ice was so slick and hard that all four of the hikers eventually fell and slid varying distances down the side of the mountain, sustaining injuries ranging from cuts and bruises from the razor sharp ice to fractured bones and the onset of hypothermia.
When located, the four individuals were scattered down the western slopes of the mountain, unable to move from where they had come to rest. By this time, they were all separated and were perched on the icy slopes between about 6,500 and 7,000 ft in altitude.
Two Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation (RARO) teams were flown onto the side of the mountain and hover-loaded out onto the icy slopes in the dark at approximately 7,000 ft. The five highly skilled and dedicated Alpine rescue personnel performed the difficult and dangerous task of trekking to and stabilising the injured parties, before anchoring themselves to the steep slope to allow the helicopter to return and pluck the injured from the icy slopes while in the hover. This task was performed four times over and the rescued parties delivered to ground ambulances waiting at the base of the mountain.
Greenlea Rescue Helicopter is part of Philips Search and Rescue Trust, a charitable organisation, operating rescue helicopters throughout the Central North Island.