The skier who died in Mt Ruapehu's crater lake was in 2001 hailed a hero for saving a toddler from drowning.

Richard Ebbett, 39, of Taupo was found by searchers in the lake near the top of Mt Ruapehu on Saturday morning.

The police say the indications are that he accidentally fell into the lake.

There are steep ice cliffs on the northern side of the lake, the side closest to the routes up to the summit area from Whakapapa ski field.

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In 2001, the police said an 18-month-old girl would have died if not for Ebbett's quick action.

He leaped from a moving van to save her when she was caught up in an accident near Kawhia.

A tractor towing a trailer with four children on it crashed into a ditch. The driver died instantly, the Manawatu Evening Standard reported.

Ebbett, a passenger in a van, saw the accident and leapt out to help while the van was still moving. The eldest child was on the bank. Ebbett freed two children who were trapped, then spotted the youngest in the ditch.

"I saw a little baby upside-down in the water. Immediately after we pulled it out it started crying."

Playing down his role, he said: "The instincts took over. I just knew I had to help. Anyone in that situation would have done the same thing."

On Thursday, Ebbett left home to ski at Whakapapa on the northern side of the mountain. He was reported missing on Friday night. His car was in the ski field carpark, but he could not be located.

Bad weather ruled out an immediate search of the mountain, but on Saturday morning, after ground teams and helicopters got to work, his body was quickly discovered, in the lake. Family members took part in the search.

The police said he was found in an area where many people go for a view of the lake.

Ebbett was an adventurer. His Facebook page is full of photos of people with motorcycles, bicycles and paddling gear in rugged places.

His sister Loren wrote a moving tribute on Facebook to her "beautiful, adventurous and loving brother Richard".

"I love you and miss you so much, and always will. To know you went while doing something you loved, exploring, will in time bring some peace. You always were a free spirit."

"Seeing all the posts on FB only confirms how much of an impression you left on people, definitely one of the best."

"Thank you to all the friends and family that came to the mountain yesterday, your love and support blew us away. Thank you so much to Conrad [Smith, of the National Park police] and the search and rescue teams, and although it wasn't the outcome we were hoping for, thank you for bringing my brother back to us."

An aerial view of the crater lake on Mt Ruapehu where Richard Ebbett lost his life. Photo / Greg Bowker
An aerial view of the crater lake on Mt Ruapehu where Richard Ebbett lost his life. Photo / Greg Bowker

In a post on the Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation Facebook page, Smith, one of those involved in the search said: "Well some days just suck and we don't always have the happy endings we all hope for. Absolutely gutted but happy to bring a son home to his family.

"Ngati Rangi said a Karakia as he [left] the mountain in a hearse surrounded by family, friends and the RARO team.

"I have been involved in a lot of rescues now and unfortunately a few recoveries as well and never have I been prouder to be involved in such a professional organisation."

The Taranaki Motorcycle Club posted saying Ebbett would be sadly missed by many.

Ebbett owned Moto SR, a motorcycle suspension business in Taupo.

One of his customers, David Fife, of Taumarunui, said Ebbett was a keen and adventurous motorcyclist and a good guy.

"He would go out of his way for you."