A two-day rescue operation to save two climbers stranded on top of Mt Taranaki in blizzard conditions last year was the first of its type, an inquest has been told.
Nicole Sutton, 29, and Hiroki Ogawa, 31, died after getting stuck near the summit of the mountain on Labour weekend last year.
Suffering from hypothermia, they huddled on a ledge they dug out of the snow for two nights after bad weather left them stranded during a tramping expedition.
When rescuers finally managed to reach the pair, they found Dr Ogawa already dead. Ms Sutton was alive, but she lost consciousness and died before she could be winched off the mountain.
An inquest into their deaths in taking place in New Plymouth this week.
This morning Senior Constable Vaughan Smith, a Taranaki Alpine Rescue member who led a team of rescuers up the mountain, said it was a new situation as far as he was aware.
"The situation on Mt Taranaki was a first of to my knowledge and the way we went about it was a 'first of'," he said under questioning from lawyer for the Sutton and Ogawa families, Hanne Janes.
"It's pretty hard to say 'you just go in and do this'. It's a first of and a learning thing... You're looking at this in hindsight and not at the time."
Questioned about what made it a 'first of' situation, he said: "As far as I know we have never climbed that distance putting fixed ropes in for safety on Mt Taranaki for a rescue like this to my knowledge."
Mr Smith led the second of two teams of Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation members up the mountain on Sunday, October 27. The first team set ropes up a treacherous part of the north ridge close to the summit before running out of rope. Mr Smith's team followed and came within 100 metres of the spot where Ms Sutton and Dr Ogawa were perched before being forced to turn back.
The group ran out of rope and weather conditions were too difficult to continue, he said. Even if they had more rope they would not have pushed further up the mountain, he told the inquest.
The strong winds and freezing rain made it unsafe for the rescuers, and Mr Smith's hand had frozen up, he said.
Yesterday the inquest heard how several teams of rescuers were pushed back because of "horrific" weather conditions that prevented a helicopter flying in close enough to save them.
One group of rescuers came within 150 metres of the pair before being forced to retreat off the mountain.
Several rescuers who gave evidence denied there had been a missed "window of opportunity" on the Sunday night, when skies cleared for a brief period when the couple could have been rescued, saying it would not have been long enough for a successful rescue operation.
On Monday, John Salisbury told the inquest that the decision by the group of four to keep climbing despite worsening weather was "gung-ho". But he acknowledged the pair were experienced trampers who were meticulous with everything they did.