The team responsible for a night-time high-altitude rescue of two trapped climbers in the Southern Alps has been recognised for their efforts.
The Otago Rescue Helicopter, Maritime NZ's Rescue Coordination Centre NZ (RCCNZ), the Department of Conservation Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Rescue Team (AMCART) and Incident Management Team were awarded a Certificate of Achievement at the New Zealand Search and Rescue (NZSAR) Awards on Tuesday.
The rescue took place near Copland Pass in January last year.
When the two climbers, who were stuck on a small ledge and unprepared for a night in the open, activated their distress beacon at 11pm, the alpine rescue team and Otago Rescue Helicopter responded.
A significant weather front was on the way with gale-force winds, rain and snow expected to high levels.
The climbers were stuck between Fitzgerald Pass and Copland Pass at an altitude of 2060m.
A Maritime NZ spokesperson said with the aid of night-vision goggles, the rescue helicopter located the climbers at 1am.
"With severe turbulence making a winch rescue impossible, two members of the rescue team were flown to the same snow ledge where they could be safely offloaded.
"The helicopter then returned to Aoraki Mount Cook to collect more members of the team, who were flown to the nearby snow ledge to attempt a ground-based rescue."
The rescue team then began climbing in the dark across the steep 30-degree snow slopes, establishing anchors and fixed ropes as they went.
After climbing the final slope, which was at more than a 40-degree angle, one of the team put the two climbers into harnesses.
They were then moved using the fixed ropes back to Copland Shelter, the spokesperson said.
Shortly after 6am, the rescue helicopter made two return trips to retrieve the climbers.
Upon arrival at Mount Cook village, the climbers were assessed by St John and one was taken to hospital for further medical treatment but has made a full recovery.
RCCNZ Search and Rescue Officer Samantha Mildon said the teams did a great job in some extremely tricky conditions.
"The Department of Conservation Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Rescue Team and the Otago Rescue Helicopter crew were dealing with some tough conditions including deteriorating weather, increasing winds and very steep terrain – with much of the operation completed in darkness.
"This incident was a great example of organisations working together under challenging circumstances to save lives."
Department of Conservation Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Rescue Team member Jim Young said it was likely the two climbers would not have survived another night at such high altitudes, especially with the incoming storm expected to last several days.
"They were unprepared for the steep terrain and the challenging conditions and were suffering from mild hypothermia – they definitely made the right call to activate their beacon when they did."
Otago Rescue Helicopter winch operator Jodie Burton praised Department of Conservation Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Rescue Team for selflessly undertaking the perilously steep climb in the dark to reach the two climbers.
"There's no doubt this was definitely one of the more challenging rescue operations I've been involved in. Alpine cliff rescue teams around the country do some pretty incredible things putting themselves in this type of terrain to get people to safety.
"The teamwork, professionalism and skill shown by this team, coupled with Captain Laing's flying abilities in the turbulent conditions, definitely saved these two climbers' lives that night."
The annual New Zealand Search and Rescue Awards were held in Wellington.
Two Gold Awards and seven Certificates of Achievement were presented by the Minister of Transport Michael Wood.
RCCNZ was also jointly awarded another Certificate of Achievement for its role in the recovery of the Ocean Gem yacht in the Marlborough Sounds in 2020.