Sunday, August 15, 2010

A little bit of an adventure many years ago

I've just been exploring yet another function of a new scanner I bought awhile back - this time doing colour negatives. I've done a few hundred old colour slides, but the negs. take a bit more time, as for starters they're not so easy to eye-ball and identify what they're of.

Anyway I was quite excited to find the negs. below. They are of what was a very complex Wanaka Search and Rescue mission under the West face of Mt Aspiring, probably about 1989. It's a little topical right now too, as in the mountains we're getting a few avalanche events due to the new snowfalls and changes in the weather pattern from settled to fronts coming through regularly.

We needed to get many people up there to find the bodies of an unfortunate couple who fell off the mountain, so the Air Force got involved. Operating one of these 4.5 ton machines at altitude involves great skill, and here one of our team provides a visual point of reference. Although it appears the machine has landed it's actually still being flown. Settling that much weight down can cause many problems if the skids sink in too far...

Subsequent snowfalls and avalanches since the accident gave us cause to be very careful. We were also aware they may have buried the bodies to quite a depth...

It was quite a saga: a local mountaineer was up there doing his own solo ski tour, and simply came across the two victims, a couple, who had fallen, roped together, off the Nor West Ridge, from just above the The Ramp. To his credit in a very unsettling situation to be alone in, he managed to descend the complex French Ridge route safely to raise the alarm. Over the next few days three of us had many spooky trips in cloud to the site, in between fronts, in a Hughes 500, looking for them, however they were buried by snowfall after the first front went through. So when the weather allowed about 10 days later, we actioned a typical avalanche rescue plan - a probe line. After a few hours of what has to be a very pedantic grid pattern search we succeeded and they were found just a little way away from all the debris in the pictures. Mostly this was due to the initial "discoverer" being able to identify the area. All-in-all it was hard on him, from go to whoa!

We tried a search dog first, but Rosella had never trained on dead person smells, but she tried her best for an hour, while we kept warm readying the area for the doz. or so people yet to arrive...

Job over I made one last photo before boarding - very glad to be out of there where so much was hanging above us, and an aircraft operating on the very edge in every way [rotor noise/ air displacement is thought to be able to trigger avalanches too], never giving riding with the body bags a second thought!...

We had to refuel down in the valley - I still recall how sweet the greens and browns were, and the smell of living - reminding me there is so much to be grateful for! These machines use a 40 gal. drum worth every half hour, and the tanks had to be near empty up on the mountain working at about 8000 ft., to keep the weight down...

There were many fine decisions made on this day by all concerned - fine in every sense of the word!

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Blogger Ruahines said...

Kia ora Donald,
Great historical stuff. Really enjoy the old photos and history of the mountains, and those whom work there. Hard to believe that big brute of a chopper got around in that sort of high terrain. Aspiring is certainly not a place for the inexperienced. Had I grown up here I have to think my love of mountains would have naturally led me to climbing, but I will have to content myself now as an old man with a new hip at just appreciating they are there. Hopefully I can visit you one day and gaze at them in person. Have a great week my friend.

August 17, 2010 at 9:24 AM  
Blogger Donald said...

Dear Robb, by my definition you've always been and still are a mountaineer [being one who not so much climbs, but travels physically, emotionally and spiritually through wild places.

Such environments usually contain mountains, yet we started presumably climbing out of our cots for a better view or to "feel" our situation, next came fences and trees [the spirit not wanting to feel fenced in, the trees anchored in the earth, yet reaching to the heavens, living].



August 18, 2010 at 11:57 PM  
Blogger Shirley Goodwin said...

thank heavens we have dedicted SAR people like yourself in our wild regions, Donald. I know you've lost a few friends over the years in the mountains.

August 21, 2010 at 6:54 PM  

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