Mt Ruapehu climber with severely broken leg found just before dark

A solo climber slipped and severely broke his leg on Mt Ruapehu, sparking a near seven-hour search and rescue operation with crew desperate to find him before nightfall.

The man activated his personal locator beacon around 1.45pm on Sunday after falling, prompting a rescue helicopter to search the area for him.

But strong winds prevented the helicopter from landing, so search and rescue coordinator Sergeant Colin Wright moved to Plan B – calling in volunteers from the Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation (RARO) to find the injured man on foot.

Twenty-two volunteers were needed for the mission, leaving from from Iwikau Village and walking uphill through the Whakapapa ski area for roughly 2.5km.

“He did a very good thing by taking a personal locator beacon and activating it. If he hadn’t had one, we wouldn’t have known [he was injured] until he was reported [as missing] and by that stage he could’ve easily died from hypothermia. He was very lucky,” Wright said.

This afternoon a climber fell fracturing their leg on Mt Ruapehu near Skyline Ridge at Whakapapa. Due to very strong…

“Where the patient was located, there was ice fall, which means the wind was whipping up a lot of ice off the tops of pinnacles and sort of raining down of them.

“They were quite concerned. They wanted to get him triaged and packaged and brought down as quick as they could.”

It took around 45 minutes to move the climber using ropes and a harness from where he had landed to safer place to treat him.

He was then loaded onto a stretcher with the 22 volunteers taking turns carry to carry him down the mountain.

It took the crew around four hours to get to the road and by 9pm, the man was on his way to hospital.

Land search and rescue (LandSAR)teams from Turangi, Taihape and Ruapehu responded alongside police and St John.

“The police rely heavily on our volunteers – RARO and the LandSar volunteers – they’re doing it in their own time with their own kit.

“They train hard for these sorts of things and without them we wouldn’t be able to do this sort of work. Full praise for the volunteers to come out on a Sunday afternoon.”

Wright suggested people used the NZ Mountain Safety Council’s app, “Plan my walk”, which can be used to plan walks, assign emergency contacts and share walking plans with others.

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