By Dee Wilson & Laurilee McMichael

Two Turangi Land Search and Rescue volunteers who trekked for three hours in snow and pitch darkness on Mt Tongariro to reach a woman with hypothermia, say they were just doing what needed to be done.

Professional outdoor instructor Luke Middleton and mountain and raft guide Brett Donaldson were called out around 10pm last Saturday.

Mr Donaldson had spent the day looking after his children and working at Turangi Ski Hire in the afternoon, and it was as he was preparing for bed that he got the call.

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He had work the next day and considered not going. But to say no - searchers are always given the option to refuse - would have felt like letting his SAR mates, the police and the people on the mountain down.

"Sometimes you just go 'no, I just can't go tonight, I just don't have the energy'. You weigh up all those factors and then you make your decision."

The two Turangi searchers were airlifted to Ketetahi Shelter around midnight to make the trek of around 8km to search for the woman and her partner.

Mr Middleton said the weather was clear and fine in Turangi but it was a different story on the mountain.

"It was very dark, pitch black with cloud cover and a disorienting environment."

The rescuers trudged through knee-deep snow in places during the three-hour trek.

The pair used track markers, GPS and local knowledge to find their way in the dark and Mr Middleton says the pair's fitness and experience meant they made good progress given the conditions.

"We knew where they were and just needed to get there and provide assistance so it was more time consuming than difficult because of the distance we had to cover.

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"But I wouldn't have liked to have been in [the lost couple's] shoes - wet and cold and lost out there."

The rescuers made it to Oturere Hut shortly after the trampers.

Mr Middleton says the men had done their best to warm the hypothermic woman up but they had limited spare dry clothing and it was probably fortunate that trained rescuers were on the scene.

"Two hours later it might have been a different story."

The rescuers got the woman into the only two dry sleeping bags that were left and gave her the warm clothes they were carrying.

At day break, with much improved conditions, the Greenlea helicopter returned to the Oturere Hut to retrieve the hikers and the LandSAR / RARO alpine rescue volunteers who saved their lives. Photo/Greenlea Rescue Helicopter
At day break, with much improved conditions, the Greenlea helicopter returned to the Oturere Hut to retrieve the hikers and the LandSAR / RARO alpine rescue volunteers who saved their lives. Photo/Greenlea Rescue Helicopter

The hut's gas heater was not working and the rest of the party had a cold wait until they were picked up by the Greenlea rescue helicopter after sunrise.

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Mr Middleton says the four trampers were all "very grateful" for the support and the sleepless night was part of the job.

"You volunteer and respond and do what you need to do."

The rescue impacted more on Mr Donaldson - his wife Nicole had work the next morning, and with her husband away, had to take their three young children.

Other local SAR families helped look after them and Mr Donaldson says he's grateful for "great bosses".

He returned home exhausted and too tired to work his afternoon shift.

"People just think that we're there and ready to go and we get paid to do it, but we don't, we make a lot of sacrifices through family time, losing a day's work, spending a night out in the cold and putting our own lives on the line.

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"But we just go and do it."