Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an NZME. News Service reporter based in Christchurch.

Woman in coma after glacier fall

Heather Rhodes, 36, who fell 300m down a glacier, remains in a serious condition in hospital.
Heather Rhodes, 36, who fell 300m down a glacier, remains in a serious condition in hospital.

The family of an outdoor adventurer who fell 300m down a South Island glacier are worried as she has yet to recover consciousness after Sunday's accident.

Heather May Rhodes, 36, and two male climbing companions from Wellington had been on a multi-day expedition to Cameron Glacier on the Arrowsmith Range.

She plummeted past her friends Simon Bell and Vaughan Snowdon, who were below her, and suffered a serious head injury and two broken legs.

A Westpac rescue helicopter with night-vision equipment responded when the party activated a personal locator beacon. They quickly found the group but because of the high altitude - Cameron Glacier has an average elevation of 1890m - and strong winds, they were forced to land some distance away.

Two paramedics trekked for about 40 minutes to the base of the glacier in the upper reaches of the Rakaia River, west of Christchurch, where Ms Rhodes lay unconscious in a tent.

The paramedics stabilised her broken limbs before packing her into a survival bag in preparation for the trip back across the ice. They heard the thundering noise of an avalanche, which crashed down close to them. They managed to get her back to the helicopter, which flew her to Christchurch Hospital.

Ms Rhodes has been unconscious since. Her mother, Ann Rhodes, of Greytown in Wairarapa, brother Colin and sisters Marion and Janet rushed to her bedside in the intensive care unit.

Speaking from the family home in Greytown, Ms Rhodes' father, John Rhodes, said she was in a stable condition, but had shown "minimal improvement".

"She's not been conscious since the fall and that of course is the critical thing as far as we're concerned," said the keen tramper, who has scaled several mountains with his daughter.

"While it's giving her body a chance to mend, it has not been possible yet to assess the extent of her head injury."

Mr Snowdon, 28, spoke yesterday about the accident.

"As Simon was making his way down, we heard a tumbling noise and Heather shot past. I knew that she had fallen," he said

"It was distinctively the sound of a falling person, not like rocks which we had heard plenty of that day. I knew instantly that something had failed at the top."

Ms Rhodes' fall had taken the group's ropes with her, leaving the other two climbers to descend without any gear. "If we had made a mistake, then we would have likely followed her down," he said.

"My first priority was to get the personal locator beacon out of the top of the pack, which Heather was carrying when she fell," Mr Snowdon said.

The men then set up a tent and used their own body heat to keep her warm.

Mr Rhodes said his daughter had "lived in the outdoors" her whole life.

Since graduating from the University of Otago, she had worked on the Outward Bound course, at the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre of New Zealand and most recently as an instructor for the army leadership centre based at Burnham Military Camp.

- APNZ, Christchurch Star

- APNZ

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