Japanese climbers' parents to arrive in NZ

By Anna Leask, Robin Martin

Dad cherishes the fact that his daughter had been able to speak to searchers

Hiroki Ogawa and Nicole Sutton climbing on Mt Ruapehu in August.
Hiroki Ogawa and Nicole Sutton climbing on Mt Ruapehu in August.

The parents of a Japanese doctor who died on Mr Taranaki on Sunday are flying to New Zealand to see their son.

Hiroki Ogawa, 31, died on Sunday night after hunkering down in a waist-high ice trench with his girlfriend Nicole Sutton, 29.

Ms Sutton died yesterday (Monday) morning, only hours after rescuers reached the pair at their trench at an altitude of 2380 metres.

The pair spent two nights in the trench, and suffered temperatures and low as -16C and 100km/h mountain wind gusts.

A spokesman for the Embassy of Japan in New Zealand today said Dr Ogawa's parents had been contacted by consulate staff and they were on their way to New Zealand.

A break in the weather today meant search and rescue teams were able to recover the bodies of the climbers in an early morning operation.

Air Force personnel dropped Alpine Cliff Rescue team members onto the mountain around 6.50am.

They winched the pair off the site and returned them to New Plymouth. The operation took just over an hour.

Ms Sutton and Dr Ogawa had been with two parties of four on Saturday, with one reaching the summit and returning to the base straight away while the second went up and abseiled over the Shark's Tooth and began their descent about 7pm.

However Ms Sutton and Dr Ogawa fell behind the others in their group, so decided to hunker down. The others set off their emergency beacon around 10pm, alerting authorities.

The two other climbers from their group John Salisbury, 65, and a 38-year-old woman, were also stranded on the mountain but managed to walk down by themselves on Sunday morning.

They had been at a lower altitude than Ms Sutton and Dr Ogawa, and were taken to hospital with mild hypothermia and minor cuts and bruises.

Taranaki Alpine Cliff Rescue (TACR) leader Kevin Lockley said search and rescue teams were already coordinating a rescue at 9pm on Saturday.

Mr Salisbury and his partner were able to walk down when searchers couldn't make it up the mountain the next morning due to their perseverance, he said.

"The reports that were were getting were that the conditions were extreme. Rough, windy, there was snow, there was rime ice, there was high winds.

"When you're against the elements, you'll push on. Our search team _ they pushed as hard as they can.

"I've done 20-odd years of rescues on this mountain and you can get weather that's, in half an hour, changed so much that you just can't penetrate it.

"At the end of the day, people don't quite understand we're out on the knob of the North Island on this mountain and we get extreme weather.

"Within half an hour you can have weather that's unbearable.''

Read more: Rescuers battle harsh conditions in vain

Pushing search and rescue teams high into the mountain when the weather was changing was dangerous, Mr Lockley said.

"I know those guys and they're climbers and they climb it lots. So if they're not going up ... I would struggle to get anyone [up].

"Sadly, there could have been more people in jeopardy up there. It's not a good look when your rescue team is in the same predicament as [them].''

Mr Lockley said he was 100 per cent in support of the team's decision not to continue in the deadly weather. They were forced to crawl in stages due to the extreme wind, he said.

"That mountain is fierce when the weather changes.''

TACR police liaison Vaughan Smith told Radio New Zealand it was hard to know what was going through Ms Sutton and Dr Ogawa's minds, or what their physical state was when they decided to stop descending the mountain and build the trench.

"But if they've decided to stop and dig themselves in as they've done, its probably the correct decision to do, simply because it's probably on the grounds that they believe they're in trouble and the circumstances have changed, in such that they can no longer move on without assistance.''

A Newstalk ZB listener named Barry said he resonated with Ms Sutton and Dr Ogawa's parents after losing his own son, Craig, on the same mountain 26 years ago.

"Ever since Craig was killed the hurt doesn't change. It makes it worse really, reading something like this; young people going the same way.''

Timeline

Saturday, daylight


The Auckland section of the NZ Alpine Club head off for their annual trip to Mt Taranaki, a popular Labour weekend tradition. A team of eight head up the mountain - there are two parties of four. One reaches the summit and returns. The second, including Nicole Sutton and Dr Hiroki Ogawa, reaches the crater and abseils over the Shark's Tooth. They begin descending about 7pm.

Saturday, after 7pm


Dr Ogawa and Ms Sutton are slower to descend and get separated from the other two, who set off their emergency beacon around 10pm and bunker down for the night.

Dr Ogawa and Ms Sutton, who are further up the mountain, dig an ice trench and spend the night in it.

Ms Sutton texts her family about 10.30pm saying she didn't think they would make it. Her father replies.

Sunday


The other two climbers from the group of four walk off the mountain Sunday morning.


Ms Sutton texts police but not her family, because she is worried her battery will die.

Numerous attempts to reach the climbers fail due to bad weather. Taranaki Community Rescue Helicopter flies up to around 1800m but visibility and poor conditions force it back down.

Police receive their last text from Ms Sutton late Sunday night. Dr Ogawa is believed to be still alive at this stage.

Dr Ogawa dies in the ice trench during the night.

Monday


12.30am - Search teams head off, but they are forced to turn back due to the conditions.

3.30am - New search team is deployed.

7.30am - Search team gets to the ice trench. Ms Sutton is found still alive. The team spends several hours with her but she dies mid-morning. The team heads back down as the conditions deteriorate.

The bodies remained on the mountain until they were airlifted out this morning.

Read more:
Rescuers battle harsh conditions in vain
Pair had no hope in tiny hole - guide

- NZ Herald

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