Missing climber probably died in fall - coroner

By Tracey Roxburgh

Simon Bell, an experienced climber who had been living in Wanaka, has not been seen since January 15, 2015. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Simon Bell, an experienced climber who had been living in Wanaka, has not been seen since January 15, 2015. Photo / Otago Daily Times

Missing Wellington engineer Simon Bell (33) probably died from severe traumatic injuries sustained in a mountaineering fall, Coroner David Crerar has found.

Mr Bell, an experienced climber who had been living in Wanaka, has not been seen since January 15, 2015, when he set out from Esquilant Bivouac intending to climb the west peak of Mt Earnslaw and then traverse to the east peak.

The climb was one of 100 listed by the New Zealand Alpine Club. Mr Bell had taken leave from his employment to climb them all, and this was his 68th.

His former partner, Lorraine Johns, contacted Queenstown Police on February 2, concerned he had not made contact with anyone.

Subsequent searches, including aerial searches over both the west and east peaks of Mt Earnslaw, failed to find Mr Bell.

The inquest was conducted on papers and the formal written chambers finding was issued on January 13.

In the finding, Mr Crerar said Senior Constable Julian Cahill, of Queenstown, said aerial searches were conducted.

Snr Const Cahill was satisfied that if Mr Bell had fallen during an ascent or descent of the east peak the search would have located him.

The traverse from the east to west peak was on bare rock on the north side and on snow and ice on the south.

"[Snr Const] Cahill noted two points on the traverse where it was very exposed and where a fall, without immediate arrest, would probably be fatal.

"The fall line descends to the Earnslaw Glacier, which is heavily crevassed, and a body which fell into any of the larger crevasses would be impossible to see from the air."

Snr Const Cahill estimated the chances of finding a climber or a body in most of the areas investigated was between 75% and 90%.

"On the Earnslaw Glacier side, below the traverse, the chances of detection were put by him at less than 50%."

While Mr Bell had been carrying a DeLorne locator beacon - which could be used to send and receive messages, had a tracking function and could be set to constantly identify position - he normally kept it turned off to conserve battery.

It has not been activated since January 9, 2015.

Mr Crerar found it was most likely Mr Bell had fallen during the traverse to the east peak of Mt Earnslaw and his body had been concealed in a crevasse or rocks.

- Otago Daily Times

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