Aussies escape death in Mt Cook fall

THEY are calling it the miracle of Mount Cook. Two Australians making a night-time ascent were struck by a chunk of ice and knocked 200 metres down an ice slope - in the very area that claimed the life of an Australian mountaineer in 2008.

But the pair managed to stop themselves, then made their way injured to a guide hut about 1am and called for help.

Neal Davis, 35, and Adam Glen, 34, were lifted to safety by helicopter on Saturday. Mr Glen suffered chest injuries that made it difficult to breathe as they made the descent to the hut, said the rescue co-ordinator, Senior Constable Brent Swanson, while Mr Davis had a broken nose and facial injuries.

''The fall wasn't vertical but it was pretty close to it,'' Senior Constable Swanson said. ''The fact that the piece of ice hasn't done any serious damage to them, and they haven't fallen any further, is very lucky. It was a very lucky escape.''

He said the pair had used a Department of Conservation radio in Plateau Hut to call for help. All huts on the mountain have radios.

After being brought down from the mountain the pair were driven in their rented car by a police constable to Timaru Hospital. By the afternoon both men were ''in a comfortable and stable condition and are being assessed by doctors'', Nicola Pearce, a spokeswoman for South Canterbury District Health Board, said.

The pair, limping and sporting grazes and cuts, were reluctant to talk about the ordeal, dismissing it as ''just an accident''. But they issued a joint statement thanking those who plucked them to safety.

''The response to ensure our safety and wellbeing was exceptional,'' they said.

Mountaineer Pat Deavoll, who knows the area well, said the Zurbriggen Ridge where the fall took place had an icecliff about two-thirds of the way up that created a hazard.

''What makes it unsafe is that it steepens and then bits of ice can fall off it,'' she said. ''It differs from season to season but obviously this year it's in a condition to spit stuff out.''

Ms Deavoll said from what she had heard, the climbers had done everything right. It was important to leave very early in order to make the summit before the snow melted - hence the midnight start to the climb.

''There's always going to be accidents on the mountain,'' she said. ''It seems that what's happened to them is just bad luck. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time.''

Aoraki Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest peak at 3754 metres, may be small by overseas standards, but is technically difficult and has hazardous, changeable weather.

Nine people are said to have died on the Zurbriggen Ridge.

The most recent was in 2008 when Perth doctor Mark Vinar, 43, fell from high on the ridge as he and his brother, Miles, tried to retreat in the face of bad weather.

He fell 500 metres down the same ice cliff as Mr Davis and Mr Glen, but could not stop himself and landed in an area scarred by crevasses.

Miles Vinar, 42, spent two nights waiting for rescue and said later he thought he too would die - having to dig himself out of snow drifts threatening to entomb him.

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