Climber: 'I was thinking it could be the last breath I will take'

Sabine Helleubrandt. Photo / pool photo
Sabine Helleubrandt. Photo / pool photo

A German climber who fell 20 metres down a crevasse at Fox Glacier thought she would take her last breath on the ledge where she lay with a badly broken arm and ankle.

Sabine Hellenbrandt spent a cold night huddled next to rescuers after she fell on the western slope near the glacier peak on March 7.

Speaking of her ordeal for the first time today, the 34-year-old said she and her climbing companion were not using ropes when she lost her footing on a gentle slope.

"I was slipping down and it was a 20-metre fall down in the crevasse. And then I was lying on the ice and I was thinking it could be the last breath I will take."

Climbing companion Helmut Lachmann, a general practitioner, said they had been using ropes earlier in the climb.

But they were unable to make a belay when the ice turned to hard snow nearer the peak.

Dr Lachmann was about 10m ahead of Ms Hellenbrandt when he heard something behind him.

"I looked back and saw Sabine slipping away ... and then she disappeared into the crevasse," he said.

"I had so much fear that she was dead because I had seen from the side that this was a really deep crevasse, and I could not believe that she could survive such a deep fall."

Dr Lachmann went to the edge of the crevasse and looked down to see her lying on a ledge.

"I shouted to her 'Sabine!' and she answered to me." He said he was glad to see she was alive and moving.

Dr Lachmann climbed down with a rope to help her.

He said her left arm was bloody and injured, and he also feared she might have suffered internal injuries.

"I was really worried she may die on the glacier."

Ms Hellenbrandt said her broken arm and ankle were painful, but after realising she could still move the rest of her body she thought it was not so bad.

Dr Lachmann tried pull her out of the crevasse with a rope, but when that failed he decided to trek to the Pioneer Hut to radio for help.

Ms Hellenbrandt was left lying in her bivouac sack for four hours until she heard a helicopter.

She cried out for help when she heard the three guides who were sent to rescue her.

Ms Hellenbrandt said she felt "very safe" when they reached her.

One of the guides kept close to her overnight while they waited to be airlifted out the next morning.

"I said, 'Please can you come very close to me, then I have the feeling I'm not alone.' And we talked the whole night, a lot of hours, about everything - about mountaineering, about the stars, about families."

She was airlifted to the Franz Josef medical centre the next day.

Ms Hellenbrandt has done a lot of mountaineering in Germany and Austria, but this was her first time in New Zealand.

She said she wanted to return despite her ordeal - but she might not try to tackle the glacier again.

- APNZ

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