A Mount Ruapehu rescue effort has been recognised at the New Zealand Search and Rescue Awards.
The awards are presented annually in recognition of outstanding achievements within New Zealand's Search and Rescue region, which covers 30 million square kilometres.
The awards, which Transport Minister Michael Wood presented last night, are given in the Support category recognise the contributions of individuals to Search and Rescue in New Zealand.
A group of organisations, who rescued nine climbers from the Whangaehu Glacier on Mount Ruapehu on September 26 and 27 last year, received the NZSAR Operational Activity certificate of achievement.
Those organisations were LandSAR Turangi, Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation (RARO), Taupō Police SAR Squad, National Park Police SAR Squad and the Tukino Ski Patrol.
Shortly before 1pm on September 26, police were notified that a climber had fallen 200 vertical metres into the Whangaehu Glacier on Mount Ruapehu.
The woman was part of a climbing party who were practising their mountaineering skills at approximately 2500m (8200ft).
The weather conditions were deteriorating rapidly, and the injured climber's eight companions were not able to rescue her themselves.
The local rescue helicopter was unable to reach the accident scene due to the strong winds. Police mobilised the Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation (RARO), LandSAR Turangi and Tukino Ski Patrol for a ground rescue.
During the afternoon and early evening five rescue teams, comprising 22 people, were deployed up the mountain. The first rescue team member reached the injured woman around 5.30pm and immediately started preparing for a stretcher carry.
Over the next 7.5 hours the rescue teams worked to bring the injured climber and her companions off the mountain in rapidly deteriorating weather, with gale force winds and rain.
Cloud descended the mountain as nightfall came, obliterating any chance of a second attempt at a helicopter rescue. The injured woman was placed in a stretcher which had to be carried up out of the Whangaehu Glacier using ropes and a belay system.
Rescue teams worked together to pre-rig sections of the descent so that the rescue could be expedited as quickly as possible.
Taupo Police Search and Rescue Bay of Plenty District Sergeant Toby Officer said: "This was an extremely challenging rescue operation only achievable with the skills and experience of the members of Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation (RARO), Tukino Ski Patrol and LandSAR Turangi.
"It is a great example of partnership, with multiple civilian search and rescue teams and police SAR squads from two districts."
National Park Central Districts Police Senior Constable Conrad Smith said: "Having the confidence to initiate a SAR operation in such extreme circumstances, illustrates the importance of prior collaboration and training between police staff and LandSAR groups from two different police districts.
"With risks present, such as a night-time alpine environment, very high winds, ice, cliffs, rope systems and stretchers, such as this was, you need to know and trust the people you are working with."
A Search and Rescue Incident Control Point was set up at a ski lodge in Tukino Village by the National Park and Taupō Police SAR squads.
The eight remaining members of the climbing party, accompanied by rescuers arrived at Tukino village just before midnight.
The rescue party, with Emma Langley arrived just after. Tragically, Emma had sustained serious injuries during her fall and was pronounced dead on her arrival at Tukino Village.
The operation to bring Langley and eight of her climbing companions home from high on Mount Ruapehu with the knowledge of a forecasted weather bomb to arrive was described at the awards as "a truly heroic effort by all involved".
"It epitomised the community spirit and goodwill of trained and skilled LandSAR volunteers in support of the SAR lead agency NZ Police," a press release from the awards said.
"This is when there are no other resources than boots on the ground that can get the job done and with no questions asked, and no recognition initially sought."
During the operation, there were many challenges and hurdles to overcome, calculated and considered risks were taken to ensure everyone returned home safely.
It was an outstanding and exemplary team effort and hence organisations were nominated and not individuals - because SAR is all about teamwork.