Faced with freezing temperatures, gale force winds and pelting rain, a group of 22 rescuers worked for almost eight hours to rescue an injured climber on Mt Ruapehu in September last year.
The efforts of those rescuers was acknowledged at the annual Search and Rescue Awards at Parliament on Tuesday night, with Transport Minister Michael Wood presenting a certificate of acknowledgement to the group.
Shortly before 1pm on September 26, 2020, police were notified that Emma Langley, a Wellington-based climber who was part of a group practising their mountaineering skills at about 2500m on Mt Ruapehu, had fallen 200 vertical metres into the mountain's Whangaehu Glacier.
The weather conditions at the time were treacherous, and the other eight climbers in the group were unable to rescue the fallen climber.
To make matters worse, the wind was so high that a helicopter was unable to be dispatched, so police made the call to mobilise the Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation (RARO), LandSAR Turangi and Tukino Ski Patrol for a ground rescue.
Five rescue teams were deployed across the afternoon, with the first reaching Langley at around 5.30pm and discovering she had suffered serious injuries.
Over the next seven-and-a-half hours, the 22 rescuers worked to bring Langley and the rest of the climbing party off the mountain, as gale force winds and heavy rain hampered the rescue effort.
Langley was placed in a stretcher which was carried out of the glacier, using a complicated rope and belay system.
As the rescue continued, the National Park and Taupō police SAR squads set up a search and rescue incident control point at a ski lodge in Tukino Village.
Shortly before midnight, the eight other members of the climbing party arrived at Tukino Village. The rescue party alongside Langley arrived shortly after.
Tragically 37-year-old Langley, a UK national who was working for the Ministry of Social Development in Wellington, succumbed to her injuries during the rescue and was pronounced dead upon arrival at Tukino Lodge.
National Park police senior constable Conrad Smith said the mission stands as a strong example of what can be achieved through prior collaboration.
"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," Smith said.
"With risks present, such as a night-time alpine environment, very high winds, ice, cliffs, rope systems and stretchers, you need to know and trust the people you are working with."
In a statement, Land Search and Rescue New Zealand said the rescue was nothing short of heroic.
"During the operation there were many challenges and hurdles to overcome, calculated and considered risks were taken to ensure everyone returned home safely," the group said.
"The operation to bring home Emma Langley and eight of her climbing companions from high on Mt Ruapehu with the knowledge of a forecasted weather bomb to arrive was a truly heroic effort by all involved."